How Singapore healthcare experts are using TikTok to reach out to more patients
Scroll past those thirst traps and lip-syncing videos, and you’ll see experts talking about vaccines, acne, dental care and mental wellness – and they also know a thing or two about making catchy videos, too.
What are millennials and the Gen-Z generation doing on TikTok that the rest of us who aren’t on it are missing out on? Something many probably wouldn’t expect – actual, proper health advice.
Scroll past all those lip-syncing or dancing clips and those thirst traps (keep going), and you might find a legit plastic surgeon from Detroit reacting to botched breast implant jobs and why they happen. Or a doctor in Austin gyrating to a Ciara track as he extols the virtues of complex carbohydrates.
Yes, the doctors are not just in the house, they are on TikTok.
Even in Singapore, the primarily teen platform has increasingly become a space where you can seek information, advice and support from local healthcare experts. And these are proper healthcare experts, too, such as dentists, skincare experts, counsellors, fitness trainers, and even geriatricians.
Some of these healthcare TikTokkers are, not surprisingly, nudged to join the platform by the pandemic.
“It was first, a way to bond with my young daughters, who are aged seven and 10 now, during the circuit breaker last year,” said dentist Tristan Peh (@doctortristanpeh), who started his account last March. “Back then, dental clinics could only administer essential dental services.”
The pandemic also motivated Dr Nur Farhan Bte Mohammad Alami (@geriatrician.sg), who specialises in geriatric care, to get on board in February after her own vaccination experience. “This was at a time where there was a lot of suspicions surrounding the vaccine. I started using TikTok after I got my first dose. I was keen to share my experience," she said.
Dr Elias Tam, who goes by @dreliastam and is a doctor who specialises in aesthetic medicine, got into the TikTok game just this May "to try new ways and means to share my medical knowledge, and have some fun along the way".
Others, such as Touch Mental Wellness’s assistant director Andrea Chan, were approached by TikTok to give the platform a try. “We recognised that there was some misunderstanding online about mental health among youths, such as the tendency to use 'feeling depressed' interchangeably with 'feeling sad'," she said.
"So, we set out to create bite-sized content on topics which youths could relate to." The non-profit organisation has had their account (@wellnessbytouch) since last December.
ENGAGING THE YOUTHS
TikTok is definitely a whole new world for those who know flossing only as dental care (it's also a dance move, by the way).
But the platform isn’t all that unfamiliar, opined Dr Farhan Alami. She sees the adoption of TikTok by healthcare professionals as “a phenomenon of our times”. “Social media is not new to doctors. Doctors use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. TikTok is the natural progression from these,” she said.
Social media is not new to doctors. Doctors use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. TikTok is the natural progression from these.
To Dr Tam, it is an avenue to reach a younger demographic that doesn't use Facebook or media. It is also this reason "why I see more healthcare professionals moving onto TikTok to reach this audience", he said.
"This is a positive direction provided the messages delivered via social media platforms like TikTok are accurate and educational," said Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist from the Centre for Psychological Wellness at Gleneagles Hospital Singapore.
He added that these short-format videos are starting points to “engage the audience's curiosity". "Youths are more likely to take note of these messages and find out more after the initial short clips," he observed.
That being said, Dr Lim admitted that he is not a TikTok user as he isn't "really drawn to TikTok-styled presentations".
"I tend to prefer content-heavy platforms like podcasts. I'm a boring old man," he quipped.
REACHING THOUSANDS PER VIDEO
There's no denying that the videos' reach is far wider than walk-ins, said Dr Farhan Alami. “Even with the busiest of practice, doctors can only see perhaps 40 patients a day. Putting up information on the COVID-19 vaccine via a video can reach thousands."
But how is social media apt for reaching her senior patients, considering TikTok is, well, a "young people's thing"?
“The videos on TikTok can be easily downloaded and shared on other platforms such as WhatsApp. They are part of a generation that loves to forward trending videos via WhatsApp. My parents have actually received TikTok videos that were forwarded to them on WhatsApp," she said.
As for the younger users, Dr Lam noted that "they are keen to know more and are very vocal in voicing their opinions". "They are not afraid to ask questions, which is what every good educator dreams of."
Do these healthcare TikTokkers ever get giddy with excitement over the popularity of their posts?
"My purpose is not to become a social media superstar," said Dr Farhan Alami. "Therefore, I am not pressured to be entertaining or humorous to make the videos go viral. I am a doctor and I have to play the part in maintaining credibility."
SOURCES OF INSPIRATION
Many healthcare experts cite their experiences with patients as a big source of inspiration for their videos. Dr Tam, who treats many young patients with acne, has based the majority of his posts on the topic.
Information such as step-by-step home care is something he finds himself often repeating to his patients. "The experience made me realise that it would be a subject that many youngsters would be able to relate to on TikTok."
True enough, his top post, No Proper Cleaning, has 1.3 million views, 41,500 likes and 272 comments.
Dr Farhan Alami’s video, No Reaction To The COVID-19 Vaccine?, is another example. “Many patients actually worry about not experiencing any side effects to the vaccine,” she recounted.
“They may think that they were not immunised since they did not experience fever, body aches or fatigue. This is a case of misinformation as everyone seems to expect to get side effects. I hope the video reassures those who felt perfectly fine after taking the vaccine.”
Even though her videos are based on real experiences, Dr Farhan Alami is protective of the confidentiality between her and her patients. “I ensure none of the content I produce has anything that would breach the trust patients put in me.”
Inspiration could also come from users’ comments, as Chan recalled of @wellnessbytouch’s best-received post. It was a video on social anxiety and it received over 1,600 likes and 46 comments.
“We think the video did well because it responded directly to a comment that a user had left,” said Chan. “It showed that we are not simply sharing our content, but genuinely interested in hearing from the users and supporting them through their concerns and challenges. It validated some of the concerns that they had, and made them know that they were not alone.”
Through such interactions, the organisation was also able to direct users to its fully-funded counselling programmes, she shared.
KEEP THEM SHORT AND SWEET
These healthcare TikTokkers aren’t only deft with the stethoscope but also with the platform’s video editing tools. They trim down and combine different footage into a one- or three-minute video, add catchy pop tunes, and use filters and GIFs.
The built-in green screen function, which lets them overlay their videos onto any background, livens up important, if not staid, medical advice and recommendations. They make us wish our Biology lessons were that nicely packaged.
When it comes to the topics, Dr Tam said that he focuses "on just one specific concern" and "one point at a time to make it all easy to digest". "I find that a bit of dramatic reaction seems to draw more attention," he said.
But the brevity and levity of these posts don't mean you are getting a watered-down version of the message, said Chan. Take mental wellbeing, for instance. “The key difficulty in sharing mental health information is that we do not want to dilute it to the extent of creating misinformation."
At the same time, videos that are too long may lead users to “jump to conclusions without watching the full video”, she explained, adding that that is the reason her team keeps their individual videos under a minute.
“So, instead of frontloading five facts about depression into one video, we break it up into a series of five videos. That way, users who are interested can follow us to watch the entire series and ensure the key information is brought across succinctly,” said Chan.
TIME SPENT TO PRODUCE THE VIDEOS
Dr Peh, who sometimes posts three or four times a day, spends two hours on average to script, edit and post his minute-long videos. Dr Farhan Alami takes about one to two hours to shoot, and another two to three hours to edit. As for Dr Tam's posts, his team shoots six videos in three hours and spends an hour on editing each video. So there is a lot of thought put into each video, despite the videos' short lengths.
"At the start, most videos took up to half a day to shoot, edit and post. But as we became more familiar with the different functions of TikTok, the time we spent on it decreased significantly," said Chan.
For instance, the videos in the series, Understanding Depression/Anxiety/Eating Disorders, took less than 15 minutes to put together and didn't use any creative direction or videography. "Instead, we used free-to-use stock videos as the background, and simply overlaid the educational content as text over the videos," said Chan.
"We realised that the users were not particularly impressed with how professional the video looked, but rather, how relatable and authentic the content was."
COLLABORATE WITH OTHERS
According to Dr Peh, collaborating with popular TikTokkers go a long way towards getting his messages out. “One top creator is @dentaldigest. He is a dental student in Chicago, and he makes wonderful and entertaining videos on toothbrush and toothpaste.”
While Dr Peh is known for his posts on dental care advice, and reviews of toothbrushes and toothpaste, it is his duets with Anthony Baroud from @dentaldigest that really grab users’ attention. Dr Peh's initial duet with Baroud garnered 1.8 million views and 225,000 likes.
Not that Dr Peh sings – at least not in his TikTok videos. Duet is a feature that lets users record their reactions to another TikTokker’s video. “Duetting is the easiest way for me to create content on TikTok,” he said.
“Another way is to stitch a viral video from another creator. The first five seconds can help you captivate your viewers and draw a link to your video.” Stitching is another TikTok editing function and it lets you clip scenes from another user's video and add it into your own.
And you thought flossing was the only advice you'd get from a dentist.