01. July 2019

Dr YouTube is a quack

36 per cent of the most viewed YouTube videos on neurodermatitis could cause potential harm, according to a study presented by Basel dermatologists at a meeting in Liverpool. This shows once again that self-diagnosis or even recommendations for treatment on the Internet are not reliable.


Eczema, also known as neurodermatitis or atopic dermatitis, affects around 20 per cent of children and around 2 per cent of adults worldwide. YouTube, the Internet’s second most visited website, hosts thousands of videos on this topic. A study by dermatologists from the University Hospital Basel led by senior physician Dr Simon Müller has investigated the quality of the information in the 100 most viewed eczema-related videos on YouTube. These videos have a total running time of 7 hours and 52 minutes and had a combined total of 8.52 million views at the time of the survey. The study was presented at the British Association of Dermatologists’ Annual Meeting.

The scientific quality of the videos was evaluated by two established assessment tools. In addition, the videos were classified according to the categories “useful”, “misleading” and “potentially harmful”. The authors came to the conclusion that 46 per cent of the videos are “misleading” and 36 per cent had to be classified as “potentially harmful”. For example, patients with eczema were not only encouraged to pursue unnecessary diets such as avoidance of dairy or gluten, but also to use potentially harmful skin treatments and home-based phototherapies without any detailed information about the duration of application or potential health risks. In addition, conventional medical and clinical advice was discredited in various ways and a “wonder cure” was promised instead. Also, 50 per cent of the videos were from promoters of alternative treatment methods and only 30 per cent from healthcare institutions or universities.

The assessment tools came to the conclusion that two-thirds of the videos were of poor or very poor scientific quality. The assessments of consumers did not correlate with the scientific appraisal, indicating that the people seeking information were not in a position to differentiate between good and poor scientific content.  “We are by no means discouraging the public from doing Internet research, but we strongly urge people not to make decisions based solely on YouTube videos,” says Dr Simon Müller, the lead author of the study.