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Access to information is a health equity issue. Here’s how YouTube is helping make high quality health information available to everyone.

  • By Dr. Garth Graham
  • Director and Head of YouTube Health
  • Jan.26.2022
Access to information is a health equity issue. Here’s how YouTube is helping make high quality health information available to everyone.
Information is a key determinant of health. That’s why the mission for YouTube is to provide equitable access to highly authoritative health information that is evidence-based and culturally relevant.

Information is a key determinant of health. As anyone who has worked in public health knows, education is a core pillar of how we strive to help communities live healthier lives. The degree to which information and communication impact health outcomes has been brought into sharp view over the past two years as the world battled a misinformation epidemic alongside the COVID pandemic.

That’s why the mission for YouTube is to provide equitable access to highly authoritative health information that is evidence-based and culturally relevant. We’re doing this with a focus on two key areas – information quality and information equity. People all over the world use YouTube to explore and find answers to all kinds of health questions, and they’re learning from health experts who have developed the skills to connect at scale with engaging and helpful information.

Effective communication is at the heart of improving people’s health – we want people to better understand the ways that our individual and community actions impact our own health and the health of those around us. And in our increasingly digital world, the next phase in health communication is video, where we can connect with people and answer their questions in a way that is easy to understand and engaging.

That’s why I’m thrilled to share the news that the New England Journal of Medicine has come on board as a partner of YouTube.”

Equal access to high quality health information

The massive shift towards more democratic means of mass communication, from blogging to social media to video-sharing sites like YouTube, has included health communication too. As health leaders, we have a responsibility to keep pace with these changes in where and how people find information so that we can meet people where they are and connect them with resources from credible sources.

Video is a particularly effective format for sharing health information in ways that are accessible and digestible not only to a professional audience but to everyone. Regardless of your literacy level, location, or language, video is easy to understand and engaging – even on a mobile phone. As we strive to make public health information truly public, mobile video formats are a critical tool for reaching global audiences at scale and providing free and equitable access to the best and brightest thinking in science and medicine.

That’s why I’m thrilled to share the news that the New England Journal of Medicine has come on board as a partner of YouTube.

For more than two centuries, NEJM has been recognized for publishing gold-standard, practice-changing medical research. It has also been a cornerstone in providing equitable access to information for many years, notably by allowing online access to readers in the world’s least developed countries, by making freely available all articles of urgent public importance, and by making all research articles free six months after publication.

Now, NEJM will take a new step forward in providing access to the best minds in medicine through their channel on YouTube.”

Now, NEJM will take a new step forward in providing access to the best minds in medicine through their channel on YouTube. NEJM will share everything from Quick Takes – short video summaries of article findings and their implications – to interviews, animations, and more. Through this new partnership, the best and newest science from NEJM will be available for free to audiences around the world through easily digestible video. 

“Communicating rigorously vetted health information is a core part of our mission,” said Eric Rubin, M.D., Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief of NEJM. “This partnership gives us the opportunity to experiment with communicating health information in new and engaging ways. We hope this channel will serve both the medical community as well as all curious and interested viewers.”

YouTube works alongside health authorities to increase their proficiency in digital communication skills, and fosters partnerships between creative digital content creators and medical experts to reimagine how health information is shared.”

Culturally relevant and credibly sourced

It’s important that we get facts in the hands of people, but humans are not purely rational creatures. That’s why so many public health interventions also require shifts in our cultural norms and practices. 50 years ago, you could smoke cigarettes pretty much everywhere, even on airplanes and in libraries. Today, the definitive cultural shift away from ubiquitous smoking makes it striking when you see movies or TV shows set in earlier eras that show smoking in so many places we couldn’t imagine it today. There are many of these examples, from practicing safer sex methods to having children sit in car seats well through their toddler years, that have become new cultural norms in a relatively short period of time and led to improvements in public health.

But shifting our health culture isn’t easy to do. When it comes to health communication, the messenger and the medium matter as much as the message itself.

To help health experts make the most of what digital video can offer, YouTube works alongside health authorities to increase their proficiency in digital communication skills, and fosters partnerships between creative digital content creators and medical experts to reimagine how health information is shared.

One of the newest of those partnerships is between the American Public Health Association (APHA) and Complexly, the creative educational production company started by long-time YouTube creators Hank and John Green. Through this partnership, APHA has just launched their new series, That’s Public Health, about the many ways that public health helps improve our lives. From climate change and mental health to housing and racial equity, this 20-part series will showcase the breadth and depth of public health’s role in our daily lives and how it works to keep populations healthier over the long term. The series leverages Complexly’s skills in storytelling alongside APHA's public health expertise to bring the facts to life in fun and engaging ways for learners of all levels.

It’s an exciting time to be working in health communication, with more tools available than ever before to help people. The scale and reach of platforms like YouTube can radically increase equity of access to high quality health information, by breaking down barriers between the ivory towers of academia and the everyday people who want to understand how to take better care of themselves and their families. There is always more work to be done, but we hope to make a difference through our focus on information quality and equity.