NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Online videos can be a good source of guidance for do-it-yourselfers, but consumers looking for help managing high blood pressure are often getting bad advice, according to a new study.
Researchers found that the most viewed and “liked” videos about the topic on YouTube were uninformative, at best, misleading, at worst.
“In one of the videos,” said Dr. Nilay Kumar, who led the study, “the natural cure specialist was addressing large crowds of people and proclaiming things such as, ‘salt has nothing to do with hypertension,’ which is the exact opposite of what the standard care is.”
Kumar, a physician at the Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts and clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School in Boston, added, “I found it quite concerning that there is so much misinformation.”
Still, physicians should be aware that their patients are seeking out and acting on this kind of information, he told Reuters Health. That way, doctors can point their patients to credible information and make positive use of online videos.
Kumar said he got interested in the videos while working at a specialty hypertension clinic, where he noticed a number of the patients coming in with treatments they had not been prescribed.
“I asked one of my patients about this and they told me that they had gotten the information on the Internet,” Kumar said.
“That’s when I got the idea that it might be interesting to look at what kind of information about hypertension is out there since it’s such a common health problem.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every three Americans has high blood pressure. Other research shows that 67 percent of them are Internet users and likely to seek online information related to their illness.
Kumar’s team focused on YouTube, the most popular video-sharing site, and searched the terms “hypertension” and “blood pressure.” That yielded more than 350,000 links. They selected the first 200 that came up for each search term and excluded those not in English or those related to special circumstances like pregnancy or heart failure.
That left 209 videos that met their criteria and they had independent experts rate those based on how well the content covered the causes, complications, treatment and lifestyle changes associated with hypertension. The videos were also categorized as either useful, misleading or personal experience.
Only 63 percent of the online videos could be classified as useful. A third of the videos were misleading and 4 percent simply represented a patient’s personal experience, the study team reports in the Journal of the American Society of Hypertension.
“Among the useful videos, the coverage for causes, complications, treatment, lifestyle modification, all of these were consistently higher,” Kumar said.
A misleading video contained information that was not scientifically proven, or contradicted guidelines from the American Heart Association or the American Society of Hypertension.
Examples of statements made in misleading videos included, “hypertension has no relationship to the incidence of strokes” or “treating high blood pressure leads to strokes.”
The number of views per day and the number of "likes" for misleading videos was usually higher than for the useful videos, the researchers found.
Common among the misleading videos, was promotion of holistic health and natural cures. More than half of them included ads for alternative treatments not recommended by the American Heart Association but available for sale online and 91 percent targeted hypertension patients directly.
Dr. David Calhoun, a physician and professor at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, noted that although the findings are consistent with what researchers know about digital media and other diseases, it’s encouraging that two-thirds of the videos were considered accurate.
“Because hypertension is such a common problem, we need more studies like this one to know how patients are educating themselves and what they are being told about their condition,” he said.
Doctors should ask patients about it in their medical interviews and during follow-up visits, Calhoun said.
Likewise, patients should know there’s valuable information online but not all of it is useful, so it’s important to consider the source and to discuss it with their doctor before taking any actions, he added.
The National Library of Medicine offers tips for telling good online health information from bad on its MedLinePlus website, here: 1.usa.gov/1ltidkW.
Kumar thinks that YouTube, which is the third most popular website on the Internet, has much more power to influence patients than text. He pointed out that videos containing patient experiences were engaging, and universities and professional organizations should pay attention to this.
“I think a lot of patients are looking for how others experience hypertension and it could be anything from side effects of medications to any complication related to hypertension,” he said.
SOURCE: bit.ly/1ue7MCO Journal of the American Society of Hypertension, online May 12, 2014.