TikTok has been a growing social media platform since its inception in 2016, acquiring over 1 billion annual users by 2021. As with any other platform, healthcare professionals (HCPs) have experimented and created their niche on the app, posting anything from funny lip-syncing dances to mythbusting and medical education.
This isn’t the first time HCPs have flocked to a new platform to create communities, last year audio-chat app Clubhouse saw a hefty uptake of medical education. Tried and true Twitter has seen a plethora of behaviours from tweetorials and journal clubs to peer support and education, spearheaded by trusted Digital Opinion Leaders. With over 5,000 daily tweets and continually growing volumes of authors, #MedTwitter has built a thriving community of HCPs able to discuss and share the latest medical advances and day to day challenges.
TikTok offers a unique expression for HCPs to post short form video content to a broad (and often younger) audience beyond their tighter peer communities on Twitter or LinkedIn.Founding President of the Association for Healthcare Social Media, gastroenterologist and avid TikToker (with over 500K followers) Austin Chiang shares how HCPs can effectively and responsibly use social media to meet patients where they are. He highlighted that the presence of medical professionals on social media (including TikTok) is imperative, and gives the general public knowledge and access to HCPs they might not otherwise have had.
In a nod to #MedTwitter on Twitter, HCPs post using the hashtag #MedTok on TikTok to collect their content in one place.
HCP use TikTok for medical education
While TikTok may be known widely as a miscellaneous collection of trending dances, lip-syncing videos and light-hearted humour, HCPs have found an opportunity to educate and combat misinformation.
Many individuals use trending sounds and memes to present information in an accessible way for a younger audience, such as Shannon M. Clark, MD (@TikTokBabyDoc) who shared new guidelines for preeclampsia prevention to the tune of a popular remix track.
Having soared in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, HCPs have continued to be a trusted source of information on vaccination, understanding the latest data and advice following guidelines, often accompanied by a link to additional information from official sources added by the app. UK Physician Dr Ethan Smallwood (@doctorethan) breaks down the top medical headlines in a simple format for his followers, including updates on vaccination uptake.
Not only are HCPs able to inform their non-medical audiences, but they can use their platforms to give advice to peers about their careers and wellbeing and encourage the next-generation of physicians through their education. Dr Shonna MissyMe (@shonnamissymehd) is an anaesthesia resident who frequently shares medical school and career advice to her almost 175K followers. Her advice spans from the best pre-med courses to choose, to application and interview tips.
Beyond educating and maintaining their responsibilities and duties to patients through their online presence, HCPs also utilise TikTok to share both the difficult and light-hearted parts of their daily lives. Diversity and equity issues are a key topic that HCPs can shed light on by sharing their personal experiences. In 2020, Dr Emeka Okorocha, an emergency physician from London, posted a video that went viral asking viewers that if they celebrate him in his scrubs, to not hate him in his hoodie. The video sparked articles and responses about racism and discrimination in the workplace, adding to the broader conversation happening online and offline about equity in healthcare.
HCPs use TikTok to address misinformation
Dr Karan Rajan is an NHS general surgeon and clinical lecturer at the Imperial College London and University of Sunderland. Beyond his offline career, he has now amassed 4.6M TikTok followers, 300K Instagram followers and 215K YouTube subscribers. A large proportion of his content on TikTok looks to dispel common myths and misinformation relating to health and medicine. A recent video on his page, with over 870K views, dealt with a video about a “new COVID strain ‘Deltacron’” where he assured his followers this does not exist.
Dr Karan is not the only physician combating fake news on TikTok, in fact in his Cochrane interview, Dr Austin Chiang of AHSM specified that due to the nature of “serious and complex” medical issues being discussed online, there is a greater exposure to misinformation and misrepresentation of evidence. Therefore, HCPs should be properly equipped and prepared to fight such fake news on social media and share trustworthy information.
What does an HCP influencer look like on TikTok?
Medical professionals across the globe, from all specialties and levels of expertise from medical school to professorship can build a platform and community on TikTok. The nature of the app’s algorithm (built on views, shares, likes and video completion) allows content to be shown to any user’s “For You” page who may find it interesting or useful. Based on engagement and statistics, any video can go viral, or even initiate a trending challenge.
With consistent and entertaining content, many HCPs have built impressive followings on TikTok, receiving thousands of views on a daily basis. Some of the top doctors with over a million followers span from newly qualified residents to leading consultants, all of whom share a passion to educate and entertain, often linking to additional social media accounts.
Each of these HCP influencers have developed their own niche and audience on TikTok, educating their followers on areas relating to their own specialty. For example, OB/GYN @DrJenniferLincoln wrote in her bio “The health class you wish you had in HS” as she uses her page to answer questions about sexual health.
Having coined the term Digital Opinion Leader over a decade ago, CREATION.co has been tracking the behaviours of influential HCPs with thriving communities of patients and peers on Twitter and other platforms, and now TikTok has enabled these DOLs to show up in a new and engaging way. You can discover more about how Digital Opinion Leaders are the new Key Opinion Leaders in our webinar.
Opportunity to learn and grow on TikTok
Despite a highly regarded algorithm, creators have relatively low control over their potential audience, and even which videos will go viral. The key to successful TikTok content is consistency, entertainment value and honesty – by a creator sharing on a topic that they’re passionate about, they will be able to reach an audience, via TikTok’s algorithm, who also may be interested and therefore more likely to follow and engage with their content.
#MedTok is just one topic on TikTok with many sub-genres from specific specialties like dermatology and gynaecology to #MedSchool and #WomenInMedicine. It also overlaps with other interests such as working mums who expose how they balance their daily tasks and HCPs who give insight to their gym routines and diets.
The expanse of content on TikTok is ever growing and collaborations bring together creators across the globe. Some HCPs have taken the opportunity to work with relevant brands, from symptom checker apps to study tools. Third year medical student, Josefine Holum (@josefineholum) has worked with brands as she has built a following for her medical quizzes and educational games.
Industry stakeholders have the opportunity to learn from HCPs and understand the content they’re prioritising on TikTok. With these learnings, companies can come alongside their HCP customers, even with DOL collaborations, with additional content and resources suited for a younger audience on the platform. The World Health Organisation (WHO) successfully leverage their TikTok platform, often with expert HCP collaborations to educate on a variety of pertinent health issues.
Cancer isn’t an infectious disease. Why do the millions of people getting cancer therapy worry about #AntimicrobialResistance ? WHO expert Dr Andre explains in 1 minute!
Expanding channel strategy to include TikTok would not go amiss alongside existing corporate content informed by typical in-app behaviours. European airline Ryanair often posts light-hearted, humorous and trending content to their audience of over 1.5M followers.
With so much potential, it’s no surprise that HCPs have assembled such a thriving and informative community on TikTok. Despite its relatively short lifespan so far, a lot of content created on TikTok gets disseminated onto other platforms, such as Instagram and Twitter, where HCPs have existing followings. The unique, next-generational short-form video format attracts a wide reaching audience and leaves more room for creativity than a Twitter post, allowing HCPs to express themselves in an individualised way.
For those who may have resisted the hype of TikTok, or assumed it’s only for Gen Z, rest assured there is a place for health stakeholders; and so says NHS surgeon Dr Amalina.
I tried to stay away from TikTok but I think it’s a great platform for public health education especially to counter disinformation. So, here I am. pic.twitter.com/JLiFdXZMOz
— Dr. Amalina (@DrAmalinaBakri) February 15, 2021
Overall, TikTok offers a place for education, entertainment and international connection. HCPs from all backgrounds and levels of expertise can present their unique perspectives in a creative way to share knowledge and encourage others, as well as to provide accessible and correct information to the younger generation. In light of the pandemic and season of digital transformation that ensued, TikTok is a great addition to an existing repertoire of social media channels for medical engagement.