Doctors Are Flocking to TikTok to Spread the Word About Fertility, Sex Ed, and More
There's a lot you can learn from the viral 60-second clips.
If you've watched Grey's Anatomy and thought, wow this would be so much better if the doctors started breaking it down, you're in luck. Doctors are doing double duty dancing and dishing out credible medical info on TikTok.
That's right: M.D.s and D.O.s are taking to the new-ish platform to teach users about specific mental and physical health conditions and spread awareness on timely topics (like coronavirus, vaping, and sexual health). A perfect example: Seattle-based fertility specialist, Lora Shahine, M.D., who's on the app to educate "without fear" and have fun, according to one of her many TikTok videos.
The social media app is growing rapidly—it's been downloaded 1.5 billion times as of November, according to SensorTower—and #meded content from the so-called TikTok docs is keeping pace. Their secret? Appealing to the platform's younger audience (a majority of its users are ages 18 to 23, according to Marketing Charts) with fast facts tossed on candid clips straight from the halls of their hospitals.
It's a space where doctors do belong, according to the Association for Healthcare Social Media (AHSM). "Because patients are exposed to or are seeking health knowledge on social media, health professionals should be present on social media to serve as accurate sources of medical information or otherwise risk having untrained individuals distribute information that could be wrong or interpreted out of context," says Austin Chiang, M.D., M.P.H., gastroenterologist and president of the AHSM. "Some doctors may want to educate about the conditions they diagnose and treat. Others may want to share their experience, wisdom, or lifestyles to provide insight into the profession for young aspiring physicians. I do a little bit of everything!"
The Pros and Cons of TikTok Docs
Unfortunately, though, there is also a dark side, and some recent TikToks—such as clips of doctors mocking patients and making jokes about ignoring symptoms—have revealed the potential for the app's misuse. "In recent weeks, there have been professionalism concerns over some individuals mocking patients in an attempt of creating humor," says Dr. Chiang. "This could tarnish the perception of health professionals. Some have also criticized the content of songs that are used in TikTok videos as well."
Simply put: Gray areas remain on this new platform, says Dr. Chiang. There may not be appropriate disclosure of conflicts of interest or level of training, despite TikTok's rules of conduct helping to combat some of these concerns. "We do not permit misinformation that could cause harm to our community or the larger public. While we encourage our users to have respectful conversations about the subjects that matter to them, we remove misinformation that could cause harm to an individual's health or wider public safety," such as "misleading information about medical treatments," according to TikTok's community guidelines.
#MedEd TikTok has its pros too, of course. TikTok makes the docs more accessible and touchy subjects less intimidating. At its best, the TikTok docs help young people develop trust in M.D.s and D.O.s. The docs are meeting this younger audience where they're most engaged online, after all. (As for when you're offline and in the exam room, be sure to make the most of your time at the doctor's office.)
"TikTok provides a unique opportunity to humanize our profession, to help people familiarize themselves with our health system, and to restore trust in health professionals through creative and engaging content," says Dr. Chiang.
And this is evident through the comments on one of Dr. Shahine's videos, in which she talks about getting pregnant with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
"I was diagnosed with PCOS a few months ago and told I could never have kids. I didn't realize it was still possible," commented one user. (Related: Knowing these PCOS Symptoms Could Actually Save Your Life)
Another said: "This makes me feel so relieved."
"You seem like a great dr. Thank you!!" wrote another user.
"TikTok is particularly helpful in reaching younger audiences who could benefit from health education, especially those who are looking to pursue a career in healthcare," adds Dr. Chiang.
Tuning Into a Real M.D. Is Essential
Let's face it, anyone can technically put "doc" in their TikTok handle, so how can you be sure you're watching videos from a real M.D.?
"I think it can be difficult to suss out who is credible and who is not," says Dr. Chiang. He recommends verifying doctors' credentials by doing a quick Google search and potentially even going to board certification or licensure websites. One easy way to check is by using the American Board of Medical Specialities (ABMS) Certification Matters site, he adds.
Even if the doc checks out though, viewers should do their own due diligence on the info in the videos. "The information anyone puts out on social media should be cross-checked with primary medical sources (peer-reviewed journals), medical societies, or agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO)," explains Dr. Chiang.
That being said, there are plenty of standout pros (in addition to Dr. Chiang and Dr. Shahine) to add to your TikTok feed. Not sure where to start? Here, the top health topics on the platform and the video-making docs behind them.
1. Ob-Gyn, Sex Ed, Fertility
Danielle Jones, M.D., a.k.a. Mama Doctor Jones, (@mamadoctorjones) is a Texas-based gynecologist whose videos cover "sex ed your health class forgot." She regularly debunks sexual health myths with "fact check" videos, which are surprisingly relevant for all ages. She also calls herself "TikTok's 1st Gynecologist," but that's up to viewers like you to decide, of course.
Staci Tanouye, M.D., (@dr.staci.t) is a board-certified ob-gyn who's "dropping knowledge on your lady bits." The mom has a series of "safe sex facts" videos as well as info on sexually transmitted diseases, sexual consent, and more timely subjects. (FYI: Here are the most common signs and symptoms of STDs.)
2. General Medicine
Look to Minnesota-based family medicine resident, Rose Marie Leslie, M.D. (@drleslie) to call out misinformation online, touch on trending topics like vaping and coronavirus, and answer those questions you've always wondered but never asked (think: does everyone's pee smell weird after eating asparagus?).
Christian Assad, M.D. (@medhacker), a cardiologist in McAllen, Texas, makes the most of his 60-second clips by debunking fad diets and clearing up essential oils misconceptions. (Although some essential oils can be pretty legit.) He shared his TikTok motto in a catchy video: "Life's too short! Have fun and educate the public!"
3. Mental Health
Scrolling through social media can mess with your mental health, and clinical psychologist Julie Smith (@dr_julie_smith) is taking to TikTok to help—some of her videos are even about how to use social media without experiencing negative effects. Overall, the England-based therapist (who has a doctorate in clinical psychology—the UK qualification for clinical psychology) is on a mission to share the importance of mental health, spread awareness about mental illness, and help users navigate through challenges mindfully. (These anxiety-reducing solutions for common worry traps can also help.)
Kim Chronister, Psy.D., (@drkimchronister) is a licensed clinical psychologist in Beverly Hills. She offers service-oriented videos on mental health in work, school, and personal life often from the front seat of her car (talk about candid). Her video on the "psychology of a breakup" hit 1 million views.
Think of Heidi Goodarzi, M.D., (@heidigoodarzimd) as the Dr. Pimple Popper of TikTok, as she provides viewers an inside look into her treatment room. While she doesn't focus as much on acne extractions and puss-squirting sensations, the Harvard-educated derm is no stranger to delivering skin-care tips and answering FAQs about cosmetic procedures. Plus, she makes cosmetic treatments like Botox exciting (yes, exciting). (On that note...here's why one woman got Botox in her 20s.)
Dustin Portela, D.O., (@208skindoc) is a board-certified dermatologist and dermatologist surgeon who dishes out acne-fighting tips and gets real about skin cancer. The Idaho-based doc approaches serious and important topics in a super relatable way. Think: a video on eczema treatments to the tune of Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble."