A systematic review of methods for studying consumer health YouTube videos, with implications for systematic reviews

PeerJ. 2013 Sep 12:1:e147. doi: 10.7717/peerj.147. eCollection 2013.


Background. YouTube is an increasingly important medium for consumer health information - with content provided by healthcare professionals, government and non-government organizations, industry, and consumers themselves. It is a rapidly developing area of study for healthcare researchers. We examine the methods used in reviews of YouTube consumer health videos to identify trends and best practices. Methods and Materials. Published reviews of consumer-oriented health-related YouTube videos were identified through PubMed. Data extracted from these studies included type of journal, topic, characteristics of the search, methods of review including number of reviewers and method to achieve consensus between reviewers, inclusion and exclusion criteria, characteristics of the videos reported, ethical oversight, and follow-up. Results. Thirty-three studies were identified. Most were recent and published in specialty journals. Typically, these included more than 100 videos, and were examined by multiple reviewers. Most studies described characteristics of the videos, number of views, and sometime characteristics of the viewers. Accuracy of portrayal of the health issue under consideration was a common focus. Conclusion. Optimal transparency and reproducibility of studies of YouTube health-related videos can be achieved by following guidance designed for systematic review reporting, with attention to several elements specific to the video medium. Particularly when seeking to replicate consumer viewing behavior, investigators should consider the method used to select search terms, and use a snowballing rather than a sequential screening approach. Discontinuation protocols for online screening of relevance ranked search results is an area identified for further development.

Keywords: Consumer health; Research methods; Social media; Systematic review; YouTube.

Grants and funding

The research was supported through a Summer Studentship grant from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.