(Reuters Health) - The internet is not necessarily a bad place to find information about long-term birth control implants, a study suggests.
Young women looking online for information about these devices are likely to find YouTube videos that are fairly accurate and mostly recount positive experiences by implant users, researchers report.
Information from internet sites like YouTube can be a good starting place for women considering the implants, who can then discuss more personal choices with their doctors, the study team writes in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care.
Birth control implants are small rods inserted under the skin of the upper arm that release hormones over time to prevent pregnancy. The method is still relatively rare, with only 1.3 percent of birth control users choosing implants, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
“Rather than ignore or discourage patients’ use of the internet and sites such as YouTube, as health care providers we need to better understand what is out there and help talk to our patients about what things mean, what is correct, and what is relevant to them,” said study coauthor Dr. Christy Boraas, an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health at University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis.
Since young women are already turning to the internet for information, the researchers set out to assess its quality by analyzing the most popular YouTube videos about contraceptive implants.
Using a variety of search terms, including the names of commonly used implants in the U.S., Nexplanon and Implanon, the researchers collected the top 20 hits for each search. Then they eliminated duplicates and videos that were not in English.
The analysis was based on 52 videos, including 12 from health professionals and 40 made by patients themselves – either documenting the implantation process or describing their experience after the fact.
The researchers noted whether videos included information on reproductive health and contraceptive use in general, and about the implants in particular, and reviewed the accuracy of all information in the videos. They also noted whether videos mentioned side effects of the implant or issues with getting access to it, such as cost.
Overall, health professional videos were more accurate and reliable than the user videos. But only about a quarter of user videos contained misinformation, such as saying that the device can cause liver damage or breast lumps.
The majority, 61 percent, of implant users described a positive experience with the implant, while the rest were rated as negative overall.
User videos most commonly talked about the side effects of the implant, with a majority citing irregular menstrual bleeding.
The videos were close to evenly split on the issue of pain during insertion, with seven women reporting significant pain and eight stating they did not feel much pain while getting the implant.
Seven women also mentioned negative effects of the implant on their mood, while two women said the device had no effect on their mood. Other issues mentioned included weight changes, breast symptoms and acne.
More than half of the users talked about getting counseling from a doctor before the procedure. A similar number mentioned getting information from YouTube or other websites.
“It is good for women to be curious and well informed about their birth control choices, and the internet can offer some information to start with,” said Dr. Molly Findley, a fellow with The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) who wasn’t involved in the study.
“However, ultimately it comes down to a conversation between a woman and her doctor because women experience contraception in all kinds of different ways and no one will have an identical experience,” Findley said by email.
Patients should first look to professional websites for information before turning to YouTube because the videos are not checked for accuracy, Findley advised. She recommends acog.org/patients, bedsider.org, arhp.org/methodmatch or plannedparenthood.org.
Although YouTube videos may be mostly accurate, Boraas noted, “all viewers need to think critically about the content, reliability and quality of the information in these resources and then need to engage in conversations with their health care providers about their concerns and questions and what may or may not make that particular method a good fit for them.”
SOURCE: bit.ly/2jyoJtG Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care, online January 20, 2017.