The process of becoming a doctor in the United States is widely recognized as one that is rigorous, challenging, and lengthy. Physicians undergo years of training, consisting of medical school and on-the-job positions with increasing authority and expertise. Those who go on to specialize in certain fields are required to do even more training. All physicians, like most health care professionals, are required to complete some form of continuing education to maintain licensure. As we generally trust some doctors, such as surgeons, with our lives, it is essential that the education they receive is comprehensive. An investigation conducted by CNBC found that a significant amount of doctors are turning to some non-traditional sources for medical training and continuing education.
CNBC investigated the phenomenon of surgical training videos on YouTube and found tens of thousands of videos covering a wide variety of medical procedures, from fairly simple outpatient in-office procedures to complex surgical procedures, many with millions of views. Some of these videos are obviously geared toward non-medical audiences (the news channel pointed to a video featuring removing a particularly large amount of earwax as an example). However, many of the videos are more instructional in nature and are geared more towards the surgeon who would be performing the procedure.
As part of their investigation, CNBC interviewed a surgeon who told the news channel that he often encountered a problem he'd never seen before or was asked to use a device without much training during his medical residency. When he found himself in these types of situations, he would turn to YouTube. Not only would he consult the video-sharing platform to brush up on a procedure the night before, but he also stated that he would often watch a YouTube video right in the operating room when confronted with a particularly complex surgery or unexpected complication. "I don't know a surgeon who hasn't had a similar experience," he said.
Many of the video creators are the doctors who perform the procedures. Watching a procedure happen in real life can be a valuable experience for a medical student as well as early-career doctors. In fact, research has found that YouTube videos are quite popular among medical students as well. A study of fourth-year medical students at the University of Iowa found that YouTube was the most-used video source for surgical preparation by far.
While some of these videos may be excellent learning tools, are there risks to this widespread practice? Research suggests yes. One recent study found more than 68,000 videos associated with a common procedure known as a distal radius fracture immobilization (splinting or casting a broken wrist in layman's terms). Researchers evaluated the content on technical skill demonstrated and educational skills. Only 16 of the videos even met basic criteria, including whether they were performed by a health-care professional or institution. In several cases, the credentials of the person performing the procedure could not be identified at all. Other studies are finding that the YouTube algorithm is highly ranking videos where the technique isn't optimal. A group of researchers examined videos depicting gallbladder removal (laparoscopic cholecystectomy). Nearly half of the videos showed maneuvers that were deemed unsafe.