Social Media Promotion of Health Tests With Potential for Overdiagnosis or Overuse: Protocol for a Content Analysis

Brooke Nickel*, Raffael Heiss, Patti Shih, Emma Grundtvig Gram, Tessa Copp, Melody Taba, Ray Moynihan, Joshua Zadro

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review



In recent years, social media have emerged as important spaces for commercial marketing of health tests, which can be used for the screening and diagnosis of otherwise generally healthy people. However, little is known about how health tests are promoted on social media, whether the information provided is accurate and balanced, and if there is transparency around conflicts of interest. 


This study aims to understand and quantify how social media is being used to discuss or promote health tests with the potential for overdiagnosis or overuse to generally healthy people. 


Content analysis of social media posts on the anti-Mullerian hormone test, whole-body magnetic resonance imaging scan, multicancer early detection, testosterone test, and gut microbe test from influential international social media accounts on Instagram and TikTok. The 5 tests have been identified as having the following criteria: (1) there are evidence-based concerns about overdiagnosis or overuse, (2) there is evidence or concerns that the results of tests do not lead to improved health outcomes for generally healthy people and may cause harm or waste, and (3) the tests are being promoted on social media to generally healthy people. English language text-only posts, images, infographics, articles, recorded videos including reels, and audio-only posts are included. Posts from accounts with <1000 followers as well as stories, live videos, and non-English posts are excluded. Using keywords related to the test, the top posts were searched and screened until there were 100 eligible posts from each platform for each test (total of 1000 posts). Data from the caption, video, and on-screen text are being summarized and extracted into a Microsoft Excel (Microsoft Corporation) spreadsheet and included in the analysis. The analysis will take a combined inductive approach when generating key themes and a deductive approach using a prespecified framework. Quantitative data will be analyzed in Stata SE (version 18.0; Stata Corp). 


Data on Instagram and TikTok have been searched and screened. Analysis has now commenced. The findings will be disseminated via publications in peer-reviewed international medical journals and will also be presented at national and international conferences in late 2024 and 2025. 


This study will contribute to the limited evidence base on the nature of the relationship between social media and the problems of overdiagnosis and overuse of health care services. This understanding is essential to develop strategies to mitigate potential harm and plan solutions, with the aim of helping to protect members of the public from being marketed low-value tests, becoming patients unnecessarily, and taking resources away from genuine needs within the health system.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere56899
JournalJMIR Research Protocols
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jun 2024


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