There’s an old adage in American media: YouTube is not a reliable source. OK, maybe it’s not that old, but YouTube is certainly notorious for its factual unreliability. If you’re using the platform as a shortcut to patient education, chances are you’re leading them down an equally untrustworthy path, according to a new study published in Cornea. The research shows that educational resources found on YouTube have a low degree of quality and are sometimes created by commercial sources.

In particular, the researchers looked at the available content regarding refractive surgery. The team analyzed 175 videos and measured the quality of the medical information they provide using three different metrics, the DISCREN scoring system (which evaluates the objectivity and exhaustibility of medical information), the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) score (which allows users to rank videos on four criteria—authorship, attribution, disclosure and currency) and the Global Quality score (which allows users to evaluate the overall quality of the video’s content on a five-point Likert scale.)         

The results were poor across all three methods. The mean DISCERN, JAMA and Global Quality scores were 33.25±15.34 (poor quality), 0.74±0.82 (lowest quality) and 1.74±0.81 (poor quality), respectively.

“Although some of the analyzed online videos contain beneficial information, YouTube videos do not generally seem to be useful as educational resources for patients about refractive surgery,” the researchers concluded. Nonetheless, videos associated with refractive surgery alone have more than three million views, a phenomenon the researchers attribute to a lack of reliable resources prepared by health care professionals.

Of the 175 videos analyzed, 42% were uploaded by physicians, 38.2% by health channels, 9.1% by patients and 8.5% by medical organizations. 

Kuçuk B, Sirakaya E. An analysis of YouTube videos as educational resources for patients about refractive surgery. Cornea. November 8, 2019. [Epub ahead of print].