An old adage with a modern spin says that you shouldn't believe everything you read on the internet. Now, new research adds that you shouldn’t believe everything you watch online, either. And that especially goes for plastic surgery videos on YouTube.
That's because these videos can be misleading forms of marketing and, what's more, can offer bad advice for people seeking legitimate information about such procedures, according to the new study, published today (Aug. 16) in the journal JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery. [7 Beauty Trends That Are Bad for Your Health]
In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey examined the digital-age trend of people turning to YouTube videos for information about medical procedures. This entailed combing through 240 of YouTube's most frequently watched videos on plastic surgery, all of which racked up a combined 160 million views. Those videos surfaced through 12 keyword searches of increasingly common cosmetic procedures, including "face-lift," "lip fillers," "nose job," "ear surgery" and "eyelid surgery."
Next, the researchers evaluated the videos for factual information and the quality of the content therein using what's known as the DISCERN criteria — a questionnaire that evaluates the reliability and quality of consumer health information.
The team also examined the YouTube videos for the presence of U.S. board-certified physicians and specialists — whose names were checked against the American Board of Medical Specialties database — as well as the name of the person or group posting the YouTube videos.
Their findings were startling: Even videos made to look like educational materials that were presented by certified medical professionals or specialists could be veiled marketing schemes, lead study author Dr. Boris Paskhover, an assistant professor of otolaryngologyat Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, said in a statement.
"Patients and physicians who use YouTube for educational purposes should be aware that these videos can present biased information, be unbalanced when evaluating risks versus benefits and be unclear about the qualifications of the practitioner," Paskhover said. "YouTube is for marketing. The majority of the people who post these videos are trying to sell you something."
The new research piggybacks on a previous study from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine published last year. That study found that approximately 26 percent of the top Instagram posts on plastic surgery were shared by cosmetic surgeons who weren't themselves board certified in plastic surgery (in other words, general surgeons, dermatologists, gynecologists and even family medicine doctors). That study found that much of that content (around 67 percent) was, in fact, self-marketing.
Dr. Clark Schierle, director of aesthetic surgery at Northwestern Specialists in Plastic Surgery in Chicago and the study's senior author, told Live Science at the time that he had recently "found an oral surgeon who had undergone additional training in cosmetic surgery, and the oral surgeon is doing breast implants."
Both of the above studies emphasize the importance of using caution around videos on this or any other topic, whether the person seeking information is a frequent social media user or a casual browser. It all boils down to this: Definitely do your research.
Originally published on Live Science.