The first thing many people do when they have a health question is head online, but when it comes to COVID-19 and vaccines, the answers they're finding might do more harm than good.
But amid the deluge of misinformation, YouTube is now stepping up to surface more credible health information.
The digital video platform is teaming up with Mass General Brigham to point up medical information from authoritative health sources, such as the health system's physicians, researchers and health care experts.
The Google-owned company said it will highlight videos from high-quality sources when people search for specific health topics. YouTube will also add new "health source information panels" on videos to help viewers identify those they can trust.
"The truth of the matter is, people are looking for health information, and while we have to do a good job of removing bad information, we also have to do a better job of providing good information," Garth Graham, M.D., director and global head of healthcare and public health partnerships at YouTube, told Fierce Healthcare.
Merely removing online health misinformation without replacing it with credible information "creates a vacuum," Graham said. And many patients won't change their behaviors after reading a billboard or flyer, he said, referring to tools often used by public health campaigns.
YouTube's aim is to provide health information that is accessible, engaging and understandable—and perhaps more likely to spur people to act. "We’re investing to grow our platform’s role as an effective, engaging and trusted tool for public health communication through principles, partnerships and product development," Graham wrote in a blog post.
Before jumping over to Google and YouTube, Graham served as a cardiologist at Mass General Brigham, CVS' chief community health officer and the deputy assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services.
YouTube, which has more than 2 billion monthly active users, has the potential to be a "transformative tool" for public health, he said.
The company plans to highlight videos from health sources recommended by the National Academy of Medicine.
Graham said YouTube is looking to team up with health systems and hospitals to ramp up credible health information online. The company has already partnered with leading healthcare providers, including Cleveland Clinic, Mass General Brigham, Mayo Clinic, Stanford Medicine and Kaiser Family Foundation.
Mass General Brigham, along with other healthcare and research institutions, will help create evidence-based videos to share medical information about a variety of health and science topics—like mRNA research, mental health and heart health.
The goal is to produce multiple videos per week for the platform to make it easier for people to find authoritative information they can trust.
"By working together with a global digital platform like YouTube, we will broaden the reach of our experts and greatly expand access to trusted health information not just to those in our communities, but to all people around the world," said Ravi Thadhani, M.D., chief academic officer at Mass General Brigham.
In an increasingly digital world, the next phase in health communication is video, where health care professionals can connect with patients and answer their questions in a way that is both visual and personal,” Graham said.
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently said social media companies have fueled false narratives about the safety and effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines.
“There have been positive steps taken by these technology companies. But what I’ve also said to them publicly and privately is that it’s not enough," Murthy said, as reported by CNBC.