Medical professionals are increasingly using the social media platform TikTok to deliver healthcare advice to a young audience.

TikTok has over 850 millions active users each month - 100 million of which are based in Europe. The vast majority of those users are under the age of 24.

The video sharing platform has enjoyed even greater success during the pandemic, with surveys indicating it is the fastest growing social media platform in Ireland.

Dr Austin Chiang is a gastroenterologist and chief medical social media officer at Jefferson Health in Philadelphia.

He has over 380,000 followers on TikTok, where he uses lip-syncing and viral dances to share advice across a range of topics, including information about the Covid-19 vaccine.

Dr Chiang said: "We are talking about a huge proportion of our population who are actively engaging on TikTok, spending hours a day on the app share and I think it's a way to get health messaging across to a group who otherwise wouldn't get this sort of information.

"Thinking back to when I was in their shoes, I probably wouldn't have been interested in sitting down, watching the news and reading the paper, but if it's packaged in a way that is entertaining, or engaging or interesting, they may actually be more receptive to learning about it."

Doctors in Ireland are also using the TikTok app to share health advice through creative videos.

Dr Monica Peres Oikeh is a GP based in Co Cork, who bases her TikTok videos on questions her patients ask her.

"I think during this time of the pandemic, when people are hearing information from left, right and centre and not knowing what to trust, I think TikTok is a great tool to reach out to so many people, especially the young population," she explained.

"My TikToks are not just about Covid, I am passionate about women's healthcare so I talk about cervical cancer. I talk about STIs as well," added Dr Peres Oikeh.

Dr Naveen Vithanage works at Wexford General Hospital. He says he makes the time to create TikToks as "it's a great way to show positive messages about healthcare to the general public".

"A lot of people are going through mental health issues, depression and alcohol abuse, apart from all the deaths that are happening from Covid. So it's important to send a positive, healthy message to give hope to the young generation," said Dr Vithanage.

While social media is proving to be a great way for many doctors to share accurate information, Dr Chiang said it is still important to act responsibly. 

He founded the Association for Healthcare Social Media, a US non-profit, which aims to help health professionals to use social media effectively and safely.

"We have to constantly be aware of the fact that we are perceived as health professionals online and that our patients are watching. There's no such thing as a private conversation on the internet, basically," he said.

Ultimately, Dr Chiang believes "ignoring the platform isn't an option" given the amount of misinformation that is on the app.

"My motivation is really driven by getting health information out there to the general public and whether that's accurate health information, if there's something that needs to be debunked, or because there's something that has gone viral and I see that it's misleading people," Dr Chiang said.