Website Provides Vaccine Facts, Helps Parents Track Kids’ Vaccine Schedule

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the week of April 21, 2012 to be World Vaccination Week. The purpose of the initiative is to spread information about the importance and safety of vaccines.

The Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition has developed a website called Immunize For Good, which provides parents with useful resources and factual information about vaccinations. Topics addressed on the website include information about vaccine safety, the number of vaccines given and the rationale for each, and vaccine side effects. Of particular importance, the site addresses whether parents should consider spacing out vaccinations in an attempt to reduce side effects or avoid “overloading the immune system.” While vaccinating on an alternative schedule has become popular in recent years, there’s no scientific evidence to support such an approach. From the website:

Vaccines are tested to work together to best protect your child’s health. The CDC vaccine schedule is designed to give your child the greatest protection possible… There is no medical benefit in spreading out vaccines. The alternative or delayed vaccine schedule will not decrease adverse reactions.

By 15 months, children on [a popular] delayed schedule are given 17 shots and visit the doctor’s office 9 times — almost twice as many visits to the doctor as compared to the CDC schedule.

In an effort to encourage parents to vaccinate on the CDC’s recommended schedule — and to make keeping track of vaccinations easier — the coalition has developed a web-based vaccine tracking program.

Create a vaccine schedule

Parents can access the vaccine tracking program from either a home computer or a mobile device. By logging in and providing information about their child’s age and vaccines the child has received, parents can get a personalized vaccination schedule that will keep their child up to date on all CDC-recommended immunizations.

Remember, vaccines save lives.

Source: Immunize For Good

Poll Shows More Consumers Using Social Media for Health Information

A poll conducted by consulting company PricewaterhouseCoopers shows that one-third of Americans use social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to obtain information about health and wellness [1]. Respondents reported using social media resources to self-diagnose, get information about prescription drugs, and check up on doctors’ and hospitals’ reputations.

Connected via social media

YouTube as a Source of Health Misinformation

social networkResearchBlogging.orgThe Internet is rapidly transforming healthcare. Not only is it creating new connections for the access, sharing and exchange of information, it is cultivating a new level of knowledge among patients, enabling them to have input into decisions about their healthcare. Indeed, 80% of adult Americans say they have researched at least one specific health topic, either information on exercise and fitness, or information about immunizations or vaccines, online at some point [1]. A 2003 WebMD study found that consumers spent more time researching health information online than any other media source [2].

Unfortunately, with all the reliable health information online, an equal or greater amount of misinformation also exists. An article in the Economist last year discussed the exponential increase in user-generated content, encouraged by sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Wikipedia, and its affect on healthcare [3]. The article concluded by quoting a professor at Harvard Medical School:

Many doctors, he says, “don’t get the wisdom of crowds.” But he thinks the combined knowledge of a crowd of his patients would be far greater than his own.

However, the trouble with “The Wisdom of Crowds” or “Crowdsourcing” is that a group of people connected by a network doesn’t necessarily mean they will work together as or more effectively than in traditional organizations.

… Quite simply, not all crowds are wise.

In his book “The Wisdom of Crowds”, James Surowiecki wrote the following [4]:

The smartest groups are made up of people with diverse perspectives who are able to stay independent of each other. Independence doesn’t imply rationality or impartiality. You can be biased and irrational, but as long as you’re independent, you won’t make the group any dumber.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined “The Wisdom of Crowds” by evaluating YouTube as a source of information on immunization [5]. University of Toronto researchers searched YouTube using the keywords “vaccination” and “immunization”, and measured users interaction with the videos using view counts and viewer reviews indicated by the star-rating system. Scientists evaluated 153 videos:

  • 73 (48%) of the videos were positive, meaning the central message of the video supported immunization (e.g. described the benefits and safety of immunizing, described immunization as a social good, or encouraged people to receive immunizations).
  • 49 (32%) of the videos were negative, meaning the central message of the video portrayed immunization negatively (e.g. emphasized the risk of immunization, advocated against immunizing, promoted distrust in vaccine science, made allegations of conspiracy or collusion between supporters of vaccination and manufacturers).
  • 31 (20%) of the videos were ambiguous, meaning the video contained either a debate or was ambivalent.

Although almost half the videos were positive and only 20% were negative, compared with positive videos, negative videos were more likely to receive a rating, had a higher mean star rating and more views.

The videos were then rated for scientific accuracy based on the 2006 Canadian Immunization Guide, which has recommendations similar to those from the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. None of the positive videos contradicted the Guide. However, nearly half of the negative videos (22 of 49; 45%) carried messages that did contradict the Guide. These included messages that general childhood immunization can cause autism and that scentific research supports the link between thimerosal and autism. However, perhaps the most striking data from the study was that, among the positive videos, public service announcements received the lowest mean ratings and the fewest views.

The authors comment at the end of the study that:

The video ratings and view counts suggest the presence of a community of YouTube users critical of immunization.

And that community of YouTube users is growing rapidly. According to a December 2007 report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the typical share of internet users going to video sites was nearly twice as large as it was in December 2006 [6].

With the pervasiveness of blogs and RSS on the Internet today, content has become a commodity. Indeed, “information overload” tends to be everywhere. With too much information and not enough time, capturing an audience’s attention is paramount. Everyone has heard the cliché: “Content is King”. In the age of Web 2.0 and YouTube, packaging, not content, has clearly become King. This is the message public health authorities and others trying to communicate accurate health information need to pay attention to: it’s not just what you say, it’s how it’s presented.

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References

  1. Fox S and Fallows D. Internet Health Resources: Health searches and email have become more commonplace, but there is room for improvement in searches and overall Internet access. Pew Internet & American Life Project. 2003 July 16.
  2. Research Reveals That Internet Has Become Primary Means by Which Consumers Access Health Information. WebMD press release. 2003 Feb 10.
  3. Health 2.0. The Economist. 2007 Sep 6.
  4. Suroweicki J. (2004). The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations. Boston: Little, Brown, Boston.
  5. Keelan et al. YouTube as a source of information on immunization: a content analysis. JAMA. 2007 Dec 5;298(21):2482-4. DOI: 10.1001/jama.298.21.2482
    View abstract
  6. Rainie L. Increased Use of Video-sharing Sites. Pew Internet & American Life Project. 2008 Jan 9.