TikTok

Healthcare professionals turn to TikTok to fact-check, debunk health myths

Ysa Abad
Healthcare professionals turn to TikTok to fact-check, debunk health myths

HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONALS ON TIKTOK. Licensed doctor Winston Kilimanjaro Tiwaquen (left) and pharmacist Arshie Larga (right) are part of the top edu-content creators in the Philippines.

Winston Tiwaquen and Arshie Arga's Instagram

For these healthcare professionals, TikTok isn't just about dance trends

It’s March 2020 and Metro Manila is under lockdown because of the coronavirus outbreak. 

Like most people his age, 25-year-old Arshie Larga turned to TikTok, a social media application that hosts short videos, to ease the boredom and anxiety brought about by stay-at-home orders. Short K-pop clips and dance trends offered the pharmacist a break even as he worked his shift in their pharmacy.

“TikTok felt like a quick escape from the things that were happening around us and it somehow made me forget that we had this pandemic going on,” he told Rappler. 

But as the lockdown kept getting extended and COVID-19 cases continued to rise, social media – once populated by attempts at dalgona coffee and plant parenthood – was being now bombarded with false or misleading news about the virus. 

Arshie said one of his first educational TikTok videos was prompted by social media posts about how vitamins can help improve a person’s immune response against COVID-19. 

“[It was about] the difference between Ascorbic Acid and Sodium Ascorbate. At the start of the pandemic and until now, maraming gumagamit (a lot of people) are using Vitamin C to boost their immune system but they don’t know the difference between these two forms of Vitamin C,” he said. 

A licensed pharmacist, Arshie reminded his followers of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin C intake. He also explained the potential side effects and risks of a high vitamin intake in the video.

“Situations like these pushed me to create videos on TikTok to educate people and show awareness tungkol sa tamang paggamit ng mga gamot (the proper way to take medicines). Since I’m a pharmacist, I believe I’m knowledgeable about these topics,” he said. 

Utilizing TikTok as a platform

Arshie also recalled coming across claims that dexamethasone was a “cure” for COVID-19. In a TikTok video, Arshie reminded users that the drug is only used as a “supportive treatment” for hospitalized COVID-19 patients and not as a cure.

He also reminded the public that they should not hoard the drug, since it hasn’t been proven as a preventative medicine against COVID-19. 

Hindi ito isang vaccine, hindi ito isang antiviral na kayang pumatay ng virus at hindi mo dapat siya gamitin para hindi ka magka-COVID,” Arshie says in his TikTok video. (It’s not a vaccine, or an antiviral drug that kills the virus and you should not use it to avoid contracting the virus). 

The video has over 50,000 reactions on TikTok, with most comments thanking Arshie for explaining in simple terms what the drug does and doesn’t do. Several Filipino healthcare professionals also shared the video on their own Twitter accounts to inform the public about the side effects of dexamethasone.

Since then, Arshie’s content has branched out to include tips to identify fake medicines, reminders when taking contraceptive pills, and correcting bad habits when it comes to medicine intake.

More than a year and 1.9 million followers later, Arshie is both grateful and amazed that people find his videos helpful and relevant.

Kahit hindi ka kilalang personality, the algorithm will still show your videos sa feed or ‘for you’ page ng ibang tao. I think ito ‘yung advantage ng TikTok over other applications,” he said. 

(Even if you’re a newbie or even if you’re not a celebrity, TikTok’s algorithm will make your videos appear on the users’ feed and “for you” pages. I think that’s the advantage of TikTok compared to other platforms.)

TikTok’s “For You Page” is where new videos show up based on your interests and past interactions. According to TikTok, they have several factors to ensure that each “For You” feed is unique and tailored to a specific individual. Because of the current set-up of the algorithm, even users with little to no clout appear on other users’ page.

Arshie said Tiktok has given him the platform to uplift the image of his profession. 

“Here in our country, pharmacists are labeled and stereotyped as taga-benta lang ng gamot (just medicine sellers). When in fact, it’s just one of our roles in the healthcare system. By creating educational content about medicines, I would like to show my audience that we’re considered as health care workers and we have an essential role when it comes to providing drug-related information,” he said. 

Winston Kilimanjaro Tiwaquen, a licensed medical doctor, also found a way to educate via TikTok. “I get a lot of recurring common questions from patients. I keep on repeating myself that it feels like I have a script to fight the misinformation and misconceptions about health,” he explained. 

Since posting videos in June 2020, Winston (@dockilimanguru) has amassed over 3.4 million followers on TikTok and is the top edu-creator in the Philippines on the platform.

On TikTok, Winston talks about health issues like astigmatism, heart attacks, and tuberculosis. He also regularly dishes out advice for would-be health professionals.

Arshie and Winston both said the information they present is already out there on the internet. But they figure it’s their approach and delivery that makes their content easier to digest.

“There were so many questions that people would like to ask their doctors and pharmacists but they are too shy or intimidated to do so and that’s why through my videos I want to connect with people and give clarity,” Arshie said. 

Like Arshie, Winston also incorporates humor and illustrations in his videos to make them more interesting and easier to understand.  And while they both want to answer as many questions as they can, they’re well-aware that lines have to be drawn.

Both creators generally hold back from giving out medical advice online. “I always end up advising them to seek consultation. For a full diagnosis, a physician needs to see the patient face-to-face. When you’re online, there’s a limit to that. I don’t want to get trouble in advising online,” Winston said. 

Career as content creator

What was once a pass time is now turning into a side career of sorts for the two. Within a year since of being active on TikTok, they’ve received several brand partnership offers, connected with other healthcare professionals, and even branched out to other social media platforms for a wider reach. 

Arshie said, “To be honest, content creation is not easy compared to what others think. It’s physically and mentally draining to do this every day.”

He said that aside from the pressure to post content regularly, he’s also careful when it comes to accepting brand partnerships. For instance, he first assesses if his viewers would benefit or learn something from collaborations he posts on his account.

Both Arshie and Winston say having a huge platform also means there’s pressure to always get things right, based on the latest information available. “I have to make sure that everything I put out there is medically accurate and backed up by science and research,” Winston said. 

“It’s not always the quantity of videos that I can produce in a day but I should focus more on the quality of each content that I post,” explained Arshie. 

Winston said TikTok has given him the platform to help educate the public, particularly those with little access to professionals, about health risks and new medical discoveries during a pandemic. 

“I’m an advocate for health education and fighting fake news. I love promoting knowledge because knowledge is power. When our fellow Filipinos have more knowledge, they will take care of themselves better,” he said. 

Winston said the best compliment is knowing his videos were helpful to someone. 

“What’s important for me is that I have at least one person to say ‘Ganon pala ‘yon (Oh, that’s how it works)’ because at least by then, you know you’ve done your job in explaining something complicated into something simple to someone,” he said. – Rappler.com