Is YouTube a reliable source of health-related information? A systematic review

25 May, 2022

(with thanks to Irina Ibraghimova (HIFA country representative, Croatia) and LRC network)

Citation, abstract and a comment from me below.

CITATION: Osman, W., Mohamed, F., Elhassan, M. et al. Is YouTube a reliable source of health-related information? A systematic review. BMC Med Educ 22, 382 (2022).


Background: YouTube is a valuable source of health-related educational material which can have a profound impact on people’s behaviors and decisions. However, YouTube contains a wide variety of unverified content that may promote unhealthy behaviors and activities. We aim in this systematic review to provide insight into the published literature concerning the quality of health information and educational videos found on YouTube.

Methods: We searched Google Scholar, Medline (through PubMed), EMBASE, Scopus, Direct Science, Web of Science, and ProQuest databases to find all papers on the analysis of medical and health-related content published in English up to August 2020. Based on eligibility criteria, 202 papers were included in our study. We reviewed every article and extracted relevant data such as the number of videos and assessors, the number and type of quality categories, and the recommendations made by the authors. The extracted data from the papers were aggregated using different methods to compile the results.

Results: The total number of videos assessed in the selected articles is 22,300 (median = 94, interquartile range = 50.5–133). The videos were evaluated by one or multiple assessors (median = 2, interquartile range = 1–3). The video quality was assessed by scoring, categorization, or based on creators’ bias. Researchers commonly employed scoring systems that are either standardized (e.g., GQS, DISCERN, and JAMA) or based upon the guidelines and recommendations of professional associations. Results from the aggregation of scoring or categorization data indicate that health-related content on YouTube is of average to below-average quality. The compiled results from bias-based classification show that only 32% of the videos appear neutral toward the health content. Furthermore, the majority of the studies confirmed either negative or no correlation between the quality and popularity of the assessed videos.

Conclusions: YouTube is not a reliable source of medical and health-related information. YouTube’s popularity-driven metrics such as the number of views and likes should not be considered quality indicators. YouTube should improve its ranking and recommender system to promote higher-quality content. One way is to consider expert reviews of medical and health-related videos and to include their assessment data in the ranking algorithm.

COMMENT: The finding confirms that 'YouTube is not a reliable source of medical and health-related information' and previous studies shared on HIFA support this. This research is important as YouTube is a major channel for health information. It's not clear what is meant by 'average to below-average quality' and different studies used different methods to assess quality, so it is not easy to compare across studies. The observation that 'the majority of the studies confirmed either negative or no correlation between the quality and popularity of the assessed videos' is unfortunately not surprising - it is known for example that misinformation can be more popular and spread faster than reliable information. The authors conclude that health professionals 'should warn patients against relying too much on YouTube' and 'Doctors should also identify and keep a record of high-quality videos and channels related to their fields of study and recommend them to their patients'... Finally: 'There is a need for research to identify common features that can be used as quality indicators in health-related videos. Using this information will help users make the appropriate selection. There is also need for research to identify common characteristics that can serve as indicators of health-related video quality. Identifying these characteristics will be helpful in selecting health-related videos.'

Best wishes, Neil

Coordinator, HIFA Project on Information for Citizens, Parents and Children

Let's build a future where every person has access to reliable healthcare information and is protected from misinformation - Join HIFA:

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is global coordinator of the HIFA global health movement (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages in official relations with WHO. HIFA brings stakeholders together to accelerate progress towards universal access to reliable healthcare information.

Twitter: @hifa_org