Misinformation on gallstones drew more views on YouTube than useful, medically accurate videos

  • October 29, 2012

LAS VEGAS — YouTube videos advocating ineffective or potentially dangerous natural therapies for gallstone disease attracted more viewers than those providing useful information, according to data presented at the 2012 American College of Gastroenterology Annual Scientific Meeting.

Researchers screened 300 YouTube videos after a search for “gallstones,” of which 228 videos were considered relevant. The sources of each video were identified as a health agency (n=20.3%), an independent source (n=70%) and a medical advertisement (n=9.6%), and data on total views, video duration, upload date and content were collected.

Among the 228 relevant videos, investigators considered 121 useful (containing accurate and beneficial information) and 66 were labeled as misleading, with an additional 41 videos excluded for being shorter than 1 minute or not being spoken in English.

Investigators wrote that the misleading videos frequently discussed natural therapies such as yoga, cryptomonadales or barley or flush therapies, many of which have been disproven as ineffective or potentially harmful. Per-day viewership was significantly higher for misleading videos than for useful videos (18.2 views/day compared with 14 views/day; P=.03). Three videos classified as useful provided information refuting the benefits of the natural therapies, explaining why they were not effective or potentially dangerous.

Researcher Aakash Aggarwal, MBBS, a resident at State University of New York Upstate Medical University, told Healio.com that many people who posted comments on the misleading videos indicated they were interested in alternative therapies because they did not want to undergo surgery for their conditions.

“Not only were they trying therapies that may be harmful, but they’re not going in for surgery, which can lead to other complications,” Aggarwal said. He suggested that health care agencies should consider developing official videos on medical topics to post to social media sites, in order to effectively disseminate useful and accurate information on medical conditions to the public. “Now that people are using those as sources of information, it’s very important for health care agencies to use these great resources to promote public awareness … and [develop] videos that are factually correct.”

For more information:

Aggarwal A. P677: YouTube as a Source of Information for Gallstone Disease. Presented at: the 2012 American College of Gastroenterology Annual Scientific Meeting; Oct. 19-24, Las Vegas.

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