Filling gaps in care: Improving access to trusted information outside the doctor’s office

Over the past several years, the doctor-patient relationship has undeniably changed around the world. As many have begun to argue that typical touchpoints like the annual physical are becoming obsolete, the moments where a patient has the opportunity to receive guidance on their health from a source they trust become increasingly sporadic.

But during the weeks, months, or years between visits, where do patients go to find answers to their health questions? Online sources, friends, family, social media, and news outlets weave a patchwork of information that guides our health decisions everyday – yet the difficulty lies in understanding which of these sources is credible. This is especially true when we consider people in under-resourced groups who, given several cultural and socioeconomic factors, rely largely on the information available within their existing ecosystems.

More and more, we’re seeing that access to high-quality, helpful information is found to be a social determinant of health, as it impacts outcomes at both the individual and the community level. Not only does it influence one’s decisions around when and where they seek care, but also how they invest in products or choose a health plan, and whether they understand the complex topics related to their well-being.

When we consider how exposure to misinformation or falsehoods can misguide patients, it underscores the responsibility that we as providers have to ensure we ourselves understand where these sources lie, and how to use them as part of our practice.

But this is a new way of operating. For years, many of us in healthcare have been resistant to thinking about how people receive information. We take a complicated system and, instead of breaking it down, we ask patients to step into our world filled with jargon and paywalled research. When a patient leaves the emergency department, they are handed a long printout of discharge instructions, but they may not understand the terms or be able to absorb it.

Beyond this, there has also always been a broader need for the shared experiences from patients or caregivers who have navigated a similar health journey. We see this for people across all walks of life – whether it be a woman who receives a cancer diagnosis and doesn’t know who to ask about the treatment experience, or a teenage boy who is silently suffering from depression and feels too nervous to turn to family or friends with his feelings.

One of the lessons that we all learned during the pandemic is that we need to think hard not only about where and how a health message is shared, but who is sharing it. Who do people trust to hear particular pieces of information from, and what format is most effective in making that stick? How can we create an ecosystem that enables patients to find answers, so they know how to take care of themselves and what to watch for as they recover?

As a platform that reaches billions of people each month, we at YouTube understand the opportunity we have to play a role in answering that question. This is particularly important for BIPOC and underrepresented groups, who have been systematically underserved for decades, resulting in a deep-rooted mistrust in America’s medical professionals and institutions. This is why we have spent the last two years prioritizing our efforts around health information. From partnerships to establish guidelines and principles with the world’s leading health organizations and providers, to dedicated teams that ensure the questions that people are searching for are answered in a way that is both engaging and factual, to features that help users differentiate this content from the Floods of other videos on the platform – all working towards our goal to rethink the role that our platform has to play in the public health ecosystem.

Furthermore, as the inequities in our global healthcare system were laid bare over the past few years, we’ve worked to determine how we can create a content ecosystem that is tailored toward closing these gaps in care. This year, in partnership with the Kaiser Family Foundation, we brought together three outstanding organizations that are doing the work on the ground in these communities – the Loveland Foundation, the National Birth Equity Collaborative (NBEC) and the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine – and have provided each with seed funding and video production expertise, along with data and research, to help them build a presence on YouTube that reaches audiences at-scale.

At a global level, health care systems, providers, government entities, technology companies, non-profit organizations and churches all need to think of how information drives health outcomes, and how we rethink health communications to establish a seamless web of credible information, connecting the dots for all patients.

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