Physicians deploy on TikTok

Dr. Rose Marie Leslie has started posting regularly on TikTok, talking to teenagers about e-cigarettes, fake sex education information circulating on the web and much more. And she´s part of a rising number of physicians taking to this platform.

Using TikTok to explain the potential damage of e-cigarettes to young people

Dr. Rose Marie Leslie has started posting regularly on TikTok, the popular application that allows you to publish short videos. She talks to teenagers about e-cigarettes, fake sex education information circulating on the web and much more. She is not the only physician to have activated a profile on this social platform, that is currently much beloved by young people.

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TikTok is a social platform born in China that allows users to create and share videos of a maximum of sixty seconds. In 2018 it was the most downloaded app in the United States, surpassing Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. It's proving quite a hit, especially among teenagers.

Dr. Rose Marie Leslie is a family physician with over 300,000 followers on TikTok. Most of her videos deal with health issues that affect teenagers. She is best known for being a true expert on "vaping" and related diseases.

This is a very relevant issue, given the surveys that show increasing use of e-cigarettes among young people, who seem to ignore the potential risks associated with this practice. Part of the problem, according to experts, is the lack of an effective communication strategy aimed at young people by health organizations.

Dr. Leslie seems to have found a simple solution to the problem. In a video on TikTok, she shows her followers what a lung lesion looks like, due to vaping. There are many comments, including one girl who writes that she cried "because she vaped all day every day" and another who says "I quit smoking because of you". There are numerous messages of encouragement, but also a lot of criticism. "I expected this. As a general practitioner, I often talk to teenagers. It's very difficult to make them understand the risks posed by a perceived cool behavior," she said.

Dr. Leslie is just one of the physicians who started engaging in TikTok. Most physicians have established on Twitter and Instagram, which (as generational practices shift) are more nowadays popular among adults.

Dr. Austin Chiang, one of the most active physicians on social media, recently joined TikTok. He uses it mainly to talk to other young physicians about issues related to life as a medical professional, such as the cost of medical training or the sacrifice of giving up the carefree twenties to spend nights and weekends in the hospital. According to Chiang, the content reaches a wider audience on TikTok than other social platforms.

Public health experts say that the tendency of physicians to address adolescents and young adults directly is overall positive. "I read about someone who criticizes physicians and other professionals who use social media because it would make them somewhat less credible," said Professor Sherry Pagoto, a behavioral scientist at the University of Connecticut, USA. "But I think it's a way of thinking stuck in the past". Professor Pagoto says that in order to be effective, young people must be addressed using their language and communication tools. "It would be great if health organizations would follow the example of these physicians who have an active profile and follow on TikTok," she added.

Farr C. Doctors go to TikTok to talk to teens about vaping, birth control and how celery juice won’t cure cancer. CNBC. Nov 29, 2019