Disclosures: Kassamali and Villa-Ruiz report no relevant financial disclosures.
April 28, 2021
3 min read
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Q&A: TikTok’s popularity could be beneficial to spread dermatology awareness

Disclosures: Kassamali and Villa-Ruiz report no relevant financial disclosures.
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TikTok, which began as a way to show off new dances and funny clips, has been increasingly used to spread information, awareness and tips on myriad topics as its popularity has exploded.

Dermatology is one of the subjects that has been embraced by the platform with posts from clinicians and other influencers frequently gaining traction and being widely shared.

A recent research letter published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology examined the social media network’s popularity in dermatology and how it is being used.

Camila Villa-Ruiz, MPH
Camila Villa-Ruiz
Bina Kassamali, BA
Bina Kassamali

Healio Psoriatic Disease spoke with two of the letter’s authors, Camila Villa-Ruiz, MPH, and Bina Kassamali, BA, both from the department of dermatology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, about their research and what clinicians can do to best use TikTok.

Q: Why did you decide to look into the use of TikTok for dermatologic content?

Kassamali: With the rise of TikTok use during the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw an interest in dermatology among TikTok users. Dermatology videos often went viral. We saw a lot of misinformation being spread with trends that went viral on TikTok, and that is something that worried us. Given its far-reaching effects, we recognize the value in having a platform for dermatology that is visual and widely accessible to our patients. We want to leverage this to encourage the spread of reliable information that can contribute to our patients’ well-being.

Q: What are some of the most important findings in your research?

Villa-Ruiz: Our research demonstrates that a large number of top videos focused on patient experiences and testimonies, which suggests that TikTok is a productive avenue for patients to share their experiences with skin conditions. We found many videos focused on educational content, mostly posted by board-certified dermatologists. These videos were 97% reliable when compared to American Academy of Dermatology guidelines, which demonstrates the value of accessible skin information to patients and the public. All in all, our research provides a look into the potential role of TikTok as a means for patients to share their experiences and physicians to spread knowledge.

Q: How can clinicians use social media platforms such as TikTok to build their brand or help their patients?

Kassamali: We actually found fewer self-promotional videos than we anticipated. I think it is less about building a brand and more about sharing information. Videos can help educate patients, or anyone who is interested, about specific conditions, show new remedies, teach about how to diagnose a skin disease or spread awareness of healthy habits.

One of the top videos among dermatology content was a dermatologist demonstrating freezing a wart. He constantly encouraged the patient and showed empathy. Walking the patient through the procedure step by step, the dermatologist provided educational tips and used the app’s features to clarify medical terms. This shows how TikTok can serve as a powerful tool for sharing patient experiences and that dermatologists are patient advocates and cheerleaders. Dermatologists can also use other popular tools, such as viral signs and gifs, to increase engagement on videos to ensure that patients have access to reliable information.

Q: What are the best uses for these platforms for dermatologists?

Villa-Ruiz: TikTok is an app like no other and allows dermatologists to provide reliable information in fun, digestible ways. Unlike other social media platforms where views are dictated by followers, TikTok’s unique algorithm allows for anyone to go viral regardless of the number of followers. In addition, TikTok’s duet feature allows for debunking of myths and other misinformation by dermatologists. This is especially useful given the amount of misinformation that is commonly shared on social media platforms.

Q: What should dermatology patients know or look for when seeking information from TikTok?

Kassamali: There is a lot of “skinformation” on TikTok. Patients should be aware of who has the expertise to provide this information. You should always consult your dermatologist to follow up on information you learn on TikTok or other sources, as every disease varies on a case-by-case basis, and there is no standard way to treat anything. Additionally, dermatology patients can look for videos from other patients who have undergone similar experiences. It is helpful to understand that you are not going through a disease alone, and TikTok provides patients with a platform to learn from each other’s stories and support each other.

Q: Do you believe this is a format that will continue to grow?

Villa-Ruiz: Absolutely. I can only imagine its popularity will continue to skyrocket in the future because TikTok is an innovative and engaging social media platform, distinct from all other social media apps. The way that information is presented in such a fun and visual way makes TikTok unique and ideal for sharing information.

Reference:

Kassamali B, et al. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2021;doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2021.02.051.

Villa-Ruiz C, et al. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2020;doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2020.12.028.

For more information:

Bina Kassamali, BA, can be reached at bina_kassamali@hms.harvard.edu; Twitter: @BinaKassamali.

Camila Villa-Ruiz, MPH, can be reached at cvilla2@bwh.harvard.edu; Twitter: @CamilaVillaRui1.