YouTube videos can teach you how to roast a chicken, change a tire, and clean a cut or scrape.
Can they also be trusted to provide reliable health information?
Not if you’re talking about plastic surgery, says Dr. Boris Paskhover, an assistant professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School who specializes in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery.
Paskhover and a team of students reviewed 240 top-rated YouTube videos that demonstrated or discussed plastic-surgery techniques.
Combined, the videos had slightly more than 160 million views.
Their primary keyword targets were common plastic-surgery search terms: blepharoplasty, eyelid surgery, dermal fillers, otoplasty, ear surgery, rhytidectomy, facelift, lip augmentation, lip fillers, rhinoplasty, and nose job.
In order to objectively evaluate the videos, the team used DISCERN criteria, a scale that allows medical professionals and researchers to gauge the validity of medical information presented online or in a social media setting.
This method also allows reviewers to weigh whether the video presents additional relevant information, such as any potential risks and nonsurgical options.
In addition to the quality of the videos, the researchers evaluated the individuals who made or appeared in the videos, including whether they were healthcare professionals, patients, or third parties.
If healthcare professionals or doctors were part of the video, the team added additional scoring criteria based on their standing with the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS).
What reviewers concluded
The reviewers found that the majority of these plastic-surgery videos on YouTube were not made by, or did not include, professionals.
In fact, 94 of the videos did not have a medical professional at all.
The reviewers decided only 72 of the videos featured board-certified physicians, scored relatively high with the DISCERN criteria, and provided reliable, valuable information to the patients.
The majority of the videos were marketing materials disguised as medical information, the reviewers concluded.
“Videos on facial plastic surgery may be mainly marketing campaigns and may not fully be intended as educational,” Paskhover said in a statement to Rutgers Today.
“Many of these videos downplay the complexities of surgery, from risk to procedure to recovery to results,” said Dr. Joseph Russo, a board-certified plastic surgeon in Massachusetts. “No matter the reason or outcomes, surgery is a serious medical procedure. Online videos and social media can make an unknowing public think it is too easy, and that no due diligence by the patient is needed. They can also imply unreasonable results with the use of lighting, location change, and subject position and angles.”
Dr. Patrick Byrne, MBA, facial plastic surgeon at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Maryland and board member for the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS), agrees that the videos are likely not providing the whole story to a potential patient.
“There are two concerns,” he told Healthline. “The first is that the benefits of a particular procedure are overstated. The second is that the risks of the procedure are understated. Both of these are very problematic for patients and their surgeons.”
How to properly prepare yourself for plastic surgery
Don’t start with information on the internet, Byrne says.
“It is largely unregulated and you should be very careful not to assume that everything you see is accurate,” he advises.
Here’s what experts do recommend.
Do your research. Byrne and the AAFPRS encourage patients to research possible providers and seek out reviews from friends and trusted sources. Then, use online databases to review a doctor’s before-and-after images, credentials, and background or practice history.
Talk to a board-certified surgeon. Doctors will happily have an informational meeting with you where they can answer your questions, address your concerns, and talk about all your possible options, including any that are sans scalpel. This can be an efficient way to put your curiosity to bed, without filling up on inaccurate or misleading marketing materials.
“Come with questions, visual materials, etcetera, so a thorough consultation can transpire,” said Dr. Eugene Elliott, cosmetic and reconstructive surgeon at MemorialCare Orange Coast Surgical Center in California. “I can’t control what a patient resources on the web, but by spending adequate time with the patient, I can assess whether they have been adequately informed. That is the best defense against surgical misadventures and misunderstandings.”
If you view online videos, do so skeptically. “You want to take everything you read with a grain of salt, and you should look for discrepancies in information,” said Dr. Rady Rahban, a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, California. “Remember the old saying, if it’s too good to be true, it’s not true. That’s true with cosmetic surgery.”
Rahban encourages patients to have an open dialogue with their surgeon before anything is done and do your homework so you feel confident in your choices.