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Stem cell treatment YouTube videos are called into question

High-fives and words of salvation have no place when a consumer is trying to find medical help

Photo (c) Pablo_K - Getty Images
A new study of YouTube testimonials promoting stem cell treatments (SCT) found that an alarming number of those videos were nothing more than a charade. Researchers say that much of this content simply promoted unproven treatments posing as real-life instances that happened to real patients experiencing real improvements.

The stem cell market is huge. By 2025, the total global market is estimated to hit a value of 15.6 billion dollars -- a dramatic rise from its value of 6.87 billion dollars in 2016. Charlatans around the world want to see if they can also get a piece of the action. In typical internet come-ons, these “providers” use misleading claims and hard-sell spiels to pitch every kind of cure from autism to breast enhancement. Unfortunately, consumers’ trust in these videos has resulted in physical, financial, and emotional injuries to patients, according to the study.

CellPress reports that an alarming 91 percent of the 159 YouTube videos evaluated were patients discussing health improvements; another 53.5 percent involved praising providers, and; 29.9 percent showed patients recommending specific SCTs.

In more than a third of the videos inspected, the always-powerful narrative angle was worked where providers posed questions to patients.

“Patient testimonials of unproven SCTs are found on clinic websites, blogs, social media sites, and are uploaded onto YouTube,” the study reported.

“Not only are [video testimonials] able to communicate messages to individuals with varied health literacy levels, but internet users have been shown to identify more strongly, and rate products more favorably, with audio/video testimonials as opposed to text or picture-based testimonials.”

Why YouTube?

Consumers typically find searches for medical-related queries usually lead to blogs and websites -- like the Mayo Clinic or WebMD. But, it’s video that’s the perfect method to use in this game.

Not only does video play to the limited attention span of the consumer, but it also plies the elements of attention and emotion better than text. It also doesn’t hurt that YouTube is the second most searched site in the world.

What to look out for

These SCT videos pull out all the stops on the benefits: improving health, quality of life, energy, increased appetite, weight gain, strength, movement, flexibility, sensation, circulation, verbal abilities, cognition, physical appearance, vision, and urination, as well as managing conditions like shaking/tremors, seizures, pain, and even drooling.

“In 58 percent of cases, patients acted out scenes, sometimes before/after scenes, showcasing health benefits such as improved mobility, decreased stiffness, or increased flexibility by getting out of bed, clapping, grabbing objects, sitting up, and performing exercises among others,” the study found.

But, there’s lots more that a consumer should raise an eyebrow on when it comes to any kind of SCT or health-related video. Things to watch include:

  • Patients or others offering praise and showing gratitude to the clinic, provider, staff, or SCTs.

  • Words of admiration, commendation, approval, and salvation that are routinely used by patients.

  • Providers who are described as professional, knowledgeable, experienced, warm, caring, compassionate, fantastic, easy to talk with, and pleasant.

  • Some patients who make reference to their prayers being answered, being blessed, or owing their life to the providers and staff. Many videos even go as far as showing a patient giving their doctor a high-five or a provider lovingly placing their hand on a patient.

  • Scenes of heightened emotion involving a patient, such as crying, appearing distressed, stuttering, being unable to speak, or reflecting on their life prior to receiving the SCT.

Stem cell therapy is still trying to prove its legitimacy. But, until the bad actors are taken out and patient education and regulatory oversight rule the day, the study’s authors say consumers should have a discussion with their physician before making the next move.

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