Two billion. That’s how many health-related YouTube videos will be viewed in 2021. To that end, YouTube, the second most visited website on Earth, has partnered with the National Health Service to combat health misinformation. Part of the partnership and YouTube’s efforts is to create a “health shelf” where users can access health-related content.
On a cold Wednesday in January 2023, the YouTube Health team invited the UK’s leading healthcare influencers and creators to Google’s London HQ for a day of knowledge sharing and collaboration. The theme reflects YouTube Health’s mission: “to deliver high-quality health information to everyone”, which is certainly relevant in an era of rampant ‘fake news’ that makes dangerously inaccurate online health content vulnerable.
Dr Vishal Virani, Head of UK Health at YouTube led a day of panel discussions, talks and networking sessions and I picked up a number of key learnings:
1. People are increasingly turning to the Internet as a reliable source of health information
In years past, people tended to go to their doctor first when seeking health advice or a diagnosis. But now that the Internet is so tightly woven into our lives, and let’s be honest, it’s harder than ever to be face-to-face with a doctor in primary care, and many of us turn to our phones and laptops to find answers or solutions. to our health related problems. YouTube’s data strongly supports this. In 2021 alone, 180,000 health-related videos were uploaded to the platform and these videos were viewed two billion times. In a world where we are all accustomed to instant, on-demand access to information, the Internet fills the gaps left by the shortage of medical professionals and limited government-sponsored health education. But the accuracy and security of online health information is tough to police, and the spread of misinformation has real-world consequences. Although somewhat controversial, one only needs to look at the link between Covid-19 misinformation and vaccine uptake to understand the severity of the threat posed by false health narratives.
2. To combat fake news, search demand must be met with reliable, accurate information
92% of online adults access YouTube and the average 18-34 year old spends 70 minutes each day watching YouTube content. This is an audience most likely to search online for their health information, so rather than trying to reverse this trend, we need to ensure that the content they access is reliable, accurate and safe.
YouTube Health has multiple workflows to achieve this, offering a blueprint that other content platforms can choose to follow. They work very closely with NHS Digital on a “health shelf” so that health searches first return official, valid videos from reputable sources, which is definitely complex and valuable – a combination they’re not afraid to lean on. They also work with NHS England and the Royal Academy of Physicians to define content and quality standards.
3. Effective public health education requires an understanding of where and how diverse demographic information is consumed.
YouTube is certainly working hard to become the number one source for trusted online health information and they are very clear about who their demographic is and the content needed to drive meaningful behavior change; But not every Internet user is going to use YouTube alone to learn about health and wellness.
To effectively address online health misinformation, it is important to investigate where and how each demographic is accessing content. This means that leading platforms, including TikTok, Instagram and news media outlets, will need to get on board with the mission of replacing misinformation with accurate, regulated content tailored and optimized for the consumption habits of those specific audiences.
4. Cross sector collaboration is essential
The NHS and other health organizations have a wealth of health-related information and knowledge. However, they lack the knowledge, resources and experience of organizations like YouTube to put this information in places where it can be actively discovered by a large audience. By leveraging partnerships like these, NHS organizations can exponentially expand their reach of the highest quality health content. Influencer and creator partnerships are equally important here, as health organizations are able to speak to communities that are already connected through numbers of trust with larger audiences. It’s worth noting that collaborations can be mutually beneficial in more ways than one: for example, YouTube and other online content platforms have the potential to be an incredibly valuable internal educational resource for healthcare organizations that need to train staff members and provide their own education. Labor forces.
5. Viewers want to be engaged, not harassed
The most compelling educational content is what people actually want to watch. Monotonous, dated or lecturey videos don’t do well online, so creators need to work with audience tastes to be successful. We know that the most viewed content is fast, well-edited and built around real people and their stories: the best health content matches this and provides multiple supports to people at every stage of their health journey through a community of people with shared health experiences.
Can YouTube balance entertainment and regulation?
I left the event feeling inspired and emboldened about the opportunities and potential to improve public health knowledge through online content. The result was certainly the result of a full day spent by talented designers and technology leaders who genuinely cared about elevating the patient voice, democratizing access to health knowledge, and empowering patients at every step of their health journey.
Fixing this felt like a huge technical project. Big tech has an interesting relationship with health tech and many projects have come up, but Dr. Vishal Virani and the YouTube Health team definitely accept their responsibility and are building the platform very aware of its power to reassure, educate, and change behavior for patients. .
When you’re innovating in healthcare technology and media, it’s not easy to achieve reasonable ambition and control, especially as YouTube Health seems to be achieving. So it was no surprise to learn that YouTube Health’s leadership is made up of motivated doctors. Dr. Virani is joined by Dr. Garth Graham, a cardiologist and global head of YouTube Health, and Dr. Susan Thomas, a former geriatrician, is the clinical director of Google Health.
The challenge of regulating and moderating the large volume of online health content should not be underestimated, but with sufficient investment and innovation, it appears that accurate and reliable content can win. To do so, I believe we will need continued collaboration and knowledge sharing that spans the creative community, large technology organizations, and healthcare providers, with a particular focus on inclusion and community engagement.