June 14, 2024

Healt Hid

Because health is very important to us

Show and tell: Creating guidelines for assuring the credibility of health information sources on social media | Center for Health Communication

3 min read

Headshot of Dr. James O'Donovan

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Who I am: Dr. James O’Donovan, MBBS, MRes, PhD, Director of Research at Community Health Impact Coalition, Technical Advisor to WHO, NHS physician, and creator of the Doctor O’Donovan Medical Education channels, which have 300,000+ subscribers and 100,000 million video views.

What I created: In 2023 I was one of two expert clinician creators involved in the co-development of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges guidelines titled “Assuring the credibility of health information sources on social media platforms“, which were produced with funding from YouTube. These are the first guidelines to help creators and organizations create digital content that is reliable, trustworthy, and accessible. They also highlight ways to identify and continuously assess the credibility of creators and organizations.

Why it matters: Social media content is a major and valuable source of health information for millions of people. In fact, almost 6 in 10 U.S. adults search the internet for health information that they use to inform their health decisions. It is therefore essential that this information is accurate and trustworthy and that health communicators assure the public of the quality and credibility of that information. This is why we developed these guidelines. It is unrealistic and not necessarily desirable to monitor every piece of health information on social media. Instead, we devised a system to help people evaluate the credibility of the sources and communicators of health information.

What I learned: Being involved in this process taught me several valuable lessons:

  • Diverse stakeholder engagement is crucial: Developing guidelines with entities like The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, NHS Providers, and patient advocacy groups taught me the importance of engaging with a diverse group of stakeholders. Doing so is critical to create comprehensive and inclusive guidelines.
  • Evidence-based communication is essential: The development of the guidelines made me reflect on the importance of grounding communication in reliable and scientifically valid data. Beyond this, it made me reflect on how we communicate this effectively to a general audience. In an age of mis- and dis-information it is critical that health information is conveyed in plain, jargon-free language, is presented in a range of languages for diverse audiences, cites trusted sources, and is delivered in an engaging fashion that harnesses the full ’social-learning’ capacities of digital technologies (e.g. patients sharing their experiences to facilitate community and peer-to-peer learning).
  • Effective communication is based on a foundation of trust: Part of the guidelines focus on how to effectively communicate potential conflicts of interest with your audience. This involves disclosing conflicts in a way that is accessible to content users. We need to provide a mechanism for public feedback and post public corrections or retractions. In an age of increasing commercial interests in the health space, establishing trust though clear and transparent communication is paramount. With significant influence, health creators should always adhere to the principle of “primum non nocere” (“first, do no harm”) when creating content that has the potential to be accessed by millions globally.


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