YouTube, Health Information, and Health Literacy

Article information

Korean J Fam Med. 2023;44(6):301-302
Publication date (electronic) : 2023 November 17
doi :
1Department of Family Medicine, Seoul National University College of Medicine, Seoul, Korea
2Healthcare System Gangnam Center, Seoul National University Hospital, Seoul, Korea
*Corresponding Author: Seung-Won Oh Tel: +82-2-2112-5643, Fax: +82-2-2112-5635, E-mail:

Medicine is highly professional and its academic development is fast; therefore, information asymmetry between suppliers and consumers is severe. It is difficult for patients to determine whether a doctor is right, or which hospital provides better treatment. Therefore, they search the Internet. Online health information-seeking behaviors have been continuously increasing. For example, a survey conducted in 2020 found that 55% of Europeans aged 16–74 years generally found health-related information online, which is a 21% increase since 2010 [1]. A US study indicated that in 2008, 61.2% of the population sought health information online first for their most recent search, whereas in 2017, the percentage had reached 74.4% [2]. In a recent survey, seven out of 10 Koreans reported that they obtained health information through the Internet [3]. This number increased significantly over the course of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. Many people search for health information online, but it is difficult to determine the accuracy of this information, and they often encounter false information.

Information from national institutions or university hospitals is usually reliable, but its level of difficulty is a hurdle. This is because few people have sufficient health literacy to understand health information that is written in complex language. Health literacy is the degree to which individuals can find, understand, and use information and services to inform their health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others. At least 88% of adults living in the United States have health literacy that is inadequate to navigate the healthcare system and promote their well-being; only 12% are proficiently health literate [4]. In the 2020 survey, only 29.1% of Koreans had an appropriate level of health literacy [5]. As the general public’s understanding of health information is low, the content of information should be adjusted accordingly; however, this is not easy.

Recently, an increasing number of people have been getting information through YouTube. YouTube is not just a video platform as it acts as a search engine for information. Compared with the text format, video is easy, friendly, and more efficient for finding particular kinds of information. These advantages shed light on the process of delivering difficult medical knowledge. For this reason, YouTube’s role as a platform for health information is also increasing. In the present issue, Park et al. [6] conducted a study assessing the reliability, quality, and accuracy of the most-viewed YouTube videos containing information on the effect of vitamin C on the common cold. In this study, 73% of the 30 most-viewed videos were unreliable, and 67% contained misleading information and were of poor quality. The videos posted by general customers had lower reliability, quality, and accuracy than those posted by medical and nutrition professionals.

Misinformation problems distributed on YouTube are well known. A recent systematic review indicated that health-related YouTube content is of average to below-average quality [7]. As inaccurate information has become an issue, YouTube has developed its own countermeasures, such as placing content created by medical professionals at the top of search results. Recently, the “YouTube Health” service was launched in Korea. It selects certification agencies centered on university hospitals and provides highly reliable content first. It is a welcome move, but it is questionable whether the problem will be solved as long as the YouTube algorithm, in which content that can raise the number of views is more profitable regardless of accuracy, does not change. Therefore, a cautious attitude is required when obtaining health information on YouTube. Doctors should warn their patients not to rely excessively on YouTube. They should also check for high-quality videos and channels related to their field of study and recommend them to patients. Furthermore, quality assessment of health information using appropriate tools is needed [8]. In addition, efforts to increase public health literacy must be made in parallel to reduce the negative impact of false health information [9].



No potential conflict of interest relevant to this article was reported.


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