Nov 4, 2022 – What’s the point of health information on popular social media platforms like TikTok if it’s misleading?
according to Research foot in American College of Gastroenterology Annual Scientific Meeting 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina. While posts by influencers were shared more often, content from medical professionals had a higher view.
“These findings support the partnership of healthcare organizations and professionals with influencers to increase health information sharing and dissemination of factual educational content,” Faraz Jeffrey of the University of Texas Dell Medical School at Austin said at the meeting.
He noted that posts with the hashtag #IBS have already attracted 1.6 billion views, many of which are aimed at helping people deal with irritable bowel syndrome.
“With the onset of COVID-19, social media platforms like TikTok became an important outlet for patients to share their experience with IBS because they weren’t willing to visit their doctor,” Jeffrey says. “While IBS is often an embarrassing topic for patients, TikTok has played an important role in normalizing IBS by providing an online support community where patients can go and share their story.”
Jafri and his team analyzed the accuracy and educational content of the first 100 videos that appeared on TikTok under the hashtag #IBS that met the inclusion criteria for their study. They found that nearly half of the videos – 42 total – were posted by influencers, while medical professionals shared 10 videos and medical institutions posted another six. The remaining videos were shared by the general public.
The average number of videos posted by influencers was 16,382, compared to 10,869 videos posted by medical professionals. But videos from medical professionals got more views (3661,000) than those posted by influencers (2926476).
Only 30% of the videos were educational, and less than half (47%) were factual. And 1 in 5 videos (21%) posted by influencers were not based on peer-reviewed research.
“These findings are not surprising because there is a lot of misinformation on TikTok health,” says Zachary Rubin, MD, a pediatric allergist and immunologist at Oak Brook Allergists in Illinois. “This is especially true when health topics are not well understood even within the medical community.”
Rubin says it’s important for people to be aware of online trends that can influence medical decision-making, so that potential misinformation can be addressed. (Robin was not involved in the study, but is an activist TikTok user who frequently posts educational videos about vaccines, respiratory diseases, and allergies.)
“There are a lot of content creators who spread misinformation to encourage them to visit their personal websites to sign up for classes or buy products, which may not necessarily prove to be helpful,” he explains.
He says people should look up the credentials of the TikTok creators they follow for health-related information. Things to consider include whether the creator has a professional degree, what the creator’s personal website offers, and whether the creator is trying to sell a product or service.
“Although TikTok may have valuable information regarding IBS and its treatment, it is important to be aware of misinformation and consult your doctor when deciding to start a new diet or medication,” Jeffrey says. Patients can use TikTok to find helpful ‘tips and tricks’ from licensed medical professionals that can improve lifestyle and relieve symptoms.
The researchers found that almost all non-educational videos (97%) were posted by non-medical professionals. Most posts are classified as lifestyle (43%) or tips and tricks (40%), with just over a third (35%) classified as humor and 7% classified as marketing.
“Users were more interested in posts discussing lifestyle changes that can relieve IBS symptoms, such as massage, diet, posture, and clothing,” Jeffrey says. “This DIY approach to IBS took off on TikTok with posts related to diet, lifestyle, medicine, and product advertising.”
Rubin says TikTok’s popularity as a platform means it’s important for health professionals to join in and spread accurate health information — especially on popular topics like skin care and weight loss.
“The vast majority of adults search for health information online, and many adults want to see their doctors on social media,” Rubin says. “It can be a good source for people to get up-to-date information. For clinicians, it can provide an opportunity to connect with their patients and with the media.”
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