Contact Dermatitis Content Varies Among Social Media Sites

Heidi Splete

March 31, 2021

Physicians are active on social media with contact dermatitis content, but they can take more advantage of this opportunity to educate patients, according to a review of posts on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Google, Twitter, and Reddit.

Data on social media use suggest that approximately 65% of U.S. adults regularly use social media, and 40% of individuals use it in making medical decisions, Morgan Nguyen, a medical student at Northwestern University, Chicago, said at the annual meeting of the American Contact Dermatitis Society, held virtually this year.

"Dermatologists' awareness of social media discussions can further their understanding of where patients go for information and what they might encounter," she said. In particular, "contact dermatitis practitioners can tailor their counseling by knowing what their patients are seeing online."

To characterize the social media landscape for content related to allergic contact dermatitis (ACD), Nguyen and colleagues assessed metrics on content and authorship on six different platforms.

For YouTube, the authors reviewed 15 videos related to ACD with views ranging from 24,262 to 232,300. Of these videos, two were produced as medical education, four were produced by patients, and nine were produced by physicians. The content of many videos was poor quality, with an average QUEST score of 7.4/28 overall and 8.7 for physician videos. Video quality was not associated with increased views. Video titles included "What to do if you have a rash on your face," and "Contact dermatitis on lips!"

Overall, Instagram was more popular than Twitter, particularly among patients. The investigators searched using the hashtags #ContactDermatitis, #AllergicContactDermatitis, and #ContactDerm and reviewed the 100 most recent posts for authorship. The most recent 100 posts occurred over 16 days; physicians, patients, and companies each contributed approximately one-third of the content, but patient content was more focused on symptoms, treatment progress, and advice.

For Instagram, the hashtag search phrase made a notable difference in authorship, Nguyen said. Physicians were disproportionately more likely to use #AllergicContactDermatitis (43%) compared with patients (22%).

On Twitter, the most recent 100 posts were spread over 152 days, and professional organizations and companies generated approximately two-thirds of the posts. The #ContactDermatitis hashtag was the most common, and accounted for 94% of tweets.

Although patient support groups specific to ACD exist on Facebook, the researchers found none on Reddit. These two venues are designed for creating online communities, rather than simply providing information, and the researchers searched for support groups related to contact dermatitis. One of the main differences between the two is that Facebook allows for the creation of private groups, while Reddit is an open forum.

The largest contact dermatitis Facebook group, the "Eczema, Contact Dermatitis and Patch Testing Alliance," had 4,665 members at the time of the study, and most groups were private. Although no support groups existed on Reddit, titles of Reddit forums discussing ACD included allergies, askdoctors, fragrance, haircarescience, legaladvice, skincareaddicts, beauty, dermatologyquestions, medical_advice, skincare_addiction, tretinoin, and vulvodynia.

For Google, the researchers used terms similar to "contact dermatitis" as generated by the Google Keyword Planner tool, and used Google Adwords data to estimate monthly searches. The top estimated term was "contact dermatitis," with 8,322 searches, followed by "contact dermatitis pictures," with 1,666 searches, and "contact dermatitis treatment" with 595 searches. By contrast, "allergic dermatitis" had an estimated 346 monthly searches, and "allergic contact dermatitis" had 194.

Overall, approximately 9,000 searches each month involve "contact dermatitis," "allergic contact dermatitis," or "allergic dermatitis," said Nguyen. However, these estimated searches seemed comparatively low, given the high burden of ACD, she said. Although ACD ranks eighth among skin diseases based on health care costs, psoriasis (fourteenth based on health care costs) shows an estimated monthly Google search volume of 600,462, she pointed out.

The study findings were limited by several factors including the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on social media use, and by the lack of specificity associated with the search term "contact dermatitis," which is not unique to ACD, Nguyen said.

Although more research on quality assessment is needed, the results suggest that social media is a popular venue for ACD patients to seek and share information, Nguyen emphasized. There is an opportunity for patch testing physicians to create and disperse educational content for patients using these sites, she concluded.

Study Highlights Education Opportunities

"Due to the pandemic, patients have been increasingly interacting with online resources in lieu of coming to a physician's office," corresponding author Walter J. Liszewski, MD, of the department of dermatology, Northwestern University, Chicago, said in an interview. "As social media is increasingly used by patients and physicians, it is important to get a sense of its footprint," he said.

He and Nguyen were surprised by several of their findings: First, searches for ACD on Google were not particularly common given its relatively high prevalence and economic cost to society. In addition, they found that physicians often used different language than that of patients to describe ACD on Twitter and Instagram. They were also surprised at how often ACD appeared in Reddit posts, which they noted highlights that ACD impacts multiple sections of society.

The greatest challenge in studying social media and medicine is the quality of material available, Liszewski and Nguyen observed, emphasizing that while there are numerous videos on ACD on YouTube, the quality is highly variable, and there is a need for more patient-centered, educational materials. However, the results of their study highlight the opportunity for physicians and industry to create medically-accurate educational materials, they added.

Nguyen and Liszewski had no financial conflicts to disclose.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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