A recent notice in a prestigious medical journal warns consumers that the most frequently watched YouTube videos about movement disorders are inaccurate.
The comment by a group of neurologists is found in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine.
As described in a Letter to the Editor, such medical misinformation may confuse patients suffering from devastating neurological disorders and seeking health information and advice online.
In this instance, dozens of YouTube videos show people who supposedly have movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, dystonia or tremor demonstrating and talking about their symptoms.
“Many of the videos seemed to us to be atypical for the specific form of movement disorder the person in the video was purported to have,” researchers wrote.
Neurologists at University College London began the study in January 2011 when patients alerted them that online videos often proposed a diagnosis and suggested therapies.
Seven neurologists from different countries and medical institutions searched YouTube and found videos allegedly depicting various movement disorders. They then independently reviewed the top three percent most-watched videos that were of sufficient quality to review patient symptoms.
Out of 29 videos, the majority (66 percent) were identified by the neurologists as showing “psychogenic” disorders, meaning that the abnormal movement originates from a psychological condition or mental state rather than a disease with a physical cause, such as Parkinson’s. The doctors reviewing the videos did so independently, yet their diagnoses agreed in 87 to 100 percent of all cases.
Of these videos, more than half contained advice about specific therapies to treat what they identified as a movement disorder.
YouTube happens to be the third most visited website on the Internet, and is often a platform for patients to share personal medical stories and experiences. The doctors’ review should remind individuals to seek credible sites when searching for health information.
“Patients and doctors have to be very thoughtful and careful when looking for information on YouTube, as well as the Internet in general,” commented Mark Hallett, M.D., senior investigator at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) at the National Institutes of Health.
“There is a great deal of good information on the Internet, but one has to be careful.”