TOP doctors and pharmacists have been praised for using quirky TikTok videos in order to pass on vital health advice to Asian communities.
The medics have gained large followings on the video-sharing app for posting musical footage about issues including the importance of the Covid-19 vaccine, sleep tips and diet advice to control diabetes.
Dr Nighat Arif, a GP in Buckinghamshire, has more than 152,000 TikTok followers. In one video, her children can be seen dancing and in another, she gives advice on coping with the problem of hot flushes during a heatwave, to the soundtrack of Fancy Like by Walker Hughes.
NHS surgeon Dr Karan Rajan, who has around four million followers gives information about sunburn, antibiotics and painkillers, among other issues.
Mahendra Patel, honorary visiting professor of pharmacy at the University of Bradford, is planning to set up a TikTok account due to the trend.
He told Eastern Eye: “Provided they [videos] are evidence-based, these healthcare professionals giving such messages could be more effective than written information or TV news.
“It’s quick and easy – short, sharp succinct messages, as they are dealing with patients day in day out, and know the problems and challenges.
“We need to try and reach out to these communities better, they are not hard to reach. During the pandemic, we’ve used government messaging, posters, media, TV.
“We need to make use of social media channels that are being used by a greater number of south Asian communities, across all age groups.”
A quarter of British TikTok users are aged between 18 and 24, according to research.
Broadcast watchdog Ofcom said 44 per cent of eight to 12-year-olds have accounts, although the platform specifies the minimum user age of 13.
Patel added: “It’s about how we can reach out, especially with young people not coming forward to be vaccinated or double vaccinated. When it has got music attached to it, they can relate to it more than a normal video. But we have to make sure messages are up to date and are in line with government advice.”
The British Medical Association’s (BMA) public health medicine committee believes the trend of TikTok doctors could help reduce the health inequalities which have widened in the last decade.
It comes after it emerged that a fifth of seriously ill Covid patients in early August were under the age of 35.
Around 1,000 Covid patients aged between 18 and 35 years were described as being “really unwell” in hospitals across the country. The number of young people being admitted was four times higher than the peak of infections last winter.
The BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said throughout the pandemic, “we have seen the devastatingly disproportionate impact Covid-19 has had on people from ethnic minority communities”.
He told Eastern Eye: “The BMA has been at the forefront of calls to address this tragic trend, highlighting the need for targeted, culturally competent public health messaging delivered by trusted voices. It is therefore laudable and really positive to see that experts and medics are using innovative means, and utilising different mediums and platforms to both promote public health information and dispel myths – and in doing so, they are reaching groups that perhaps are missed by more traditional methods of communication.
“This is especially important when encouraging younger people and those from ethnic minority groups to be vaccinated, among whom we know uptake is lower.
“People with large followings on social media can have a huge influence, and it’s great to see them use their platforms to spread the word about the benefits of vaccination and tackle any uneasiness and mistrust that some people may have.”
The biggest trend on the China-owned platform in 2020 was #blindinglights, which saw NHS workers and families dance to The Weeknd song Blinding Lights during the UK’s first lockdown.
Other healthcare professionals on TikTok include Dr Amir Khan, a GP in Yorkshire, who posted a video of him dancing in his surgery to bhangra music while teaching people to wash their hands properly.
Another clip shows Khan dancing in his living room with captions about how to stop the spread of cold and flu viruses.
Nyrah Saleem, a pharmacist in Essex, racked up 65,000 followers in two months.
She said: “My aim was always to connect with the community and make a change through being fun – not just reeling off textbook lines. It’s a good way to get young people listening.”
She added: “It’s about mixing fun and education. My biggest video was a jokey one about how pharmacists struggle to read doctors’ writing. It has been liked 135,000 times.”
Dr Chandra Kanneganti, a GP and national chairman of the British International Doctors Association, said the trend can help reach out to young people as Covid vaccines are now available for 12- to 17-year-olds.
He said: “Any kind of healthcare marketing, particularly around vaccinations, is good. People understand the ‘TikTok language’ so any help to get the message across [is welcome].
“Small micro-videos of health promotion are an opportunity, given the platform’s popularity.
“Those with big followers, using music and dancing, and who had the vaccine and feel protected, there is no other campaign that can have the same [impact].
“Youngsters want a five-10 second mobile video. They understand that better than lecturing for 30 minutes.”
In August, the platform began trialling a new vanishing clips feature, similar to Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram.
TikTok Stories will allow users to see content posted by accounts they follow for 24 hours before the messages are deleted.