As a gastroenterologist, Dr. Austin Chiang has witnessed plenty of patients get admitted to the hospital after taking unvetted medical advice they found on the Internet, he said Wednesday during an interview at Oliver Wyman’s Health Innovation Summit in Chicago. About 10 years ago, Dr. Chiang took to social media to address this issue by being a credible source for health information. At the time, many of his colleagues thought this was a waste of time — but he has since proved them wrong.
He now has nearly 750,000 followers across his TikTok, YouTube, Instagram and X (formerly Twitter) accounts, all of which are dedicated to the spread of accurate and accessible health information. Dr. Chiang — who currently serves as chief medical officer for Medtronic’s endoscopy division, as well as a part-time practicing gastroenterologist at Jefferson Health — argued that by having a presence on social media, healthcare professionals demonstrate their commitment to meeting patients where they are.
“Once people step foot outside of the hospital, they’re constantly bombarded with information from all directions — and a lot of that is not great information. So we’ve got to be there as the accurate source of health information, and we need to do it in a way that’s engaging and fun and approachable,” he explained.
The first social media page that Dr. Chiang decided to transform from personal to professional was his Twitter account. Over the past decade, he has become a physician influencer on other social media platforms — he noted that he was “probably one of three doctors” on TikTok when he started posting on the platform in 2019.
Meet the youngest person I personally know affected by colon cancer… 💙
— Austin Chiang, MD MPH (@AustinChiangMD) March 15, 2023
Dr. Chiang, who is 37 years old, has clearly been early to the party when it comes to physicians unleashing their expertise onto social media. Leveraging what he has learned over his years of experience as a physician influencer, he wants to inspire other medical professionals to think differently about social media and the effect it can have on their patients.
After all, not many patients seek out the latest medical research or guidelines on their own— but plenty of them scroll TikTok and Instagram, Dr. Chiang pointed out. By deploying digestible chunks of credible health information on the platforms on which people already spend a significant amount of their time, healthcare providers can better reach patients who may be in need of medical advice.
“In some ways — especially on TikTok — I feel like part of my goal was to give people information that they didn’t even know they wanted,” Dr. Chiang declared.
He has some real-life examples that show the impact of his posts. For instance, Dr. Chiang recalled a video he posted about endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty — a relatively obscure weight loss surgery that is not covered by insurance.
Using this sound to share my fave procedure to do 🙏 #weightloss
“During the pandemic, I put this video out and I think it got about two million views. Two million views on TikTok probably doesn’t mean as much now, but back then, I think it was pretty impactful. I referred a person to almost every major center across the country that was doing that procedure — these people I referred were viewers of that video. And I’ve had colleagues tell me that they’ve had patients who’ve gotten that procedure because of that TikTok,” he said.
Not every doctor is going to want to take the time to create informational videos and then engage with people in the comments section to make referrals, Dr. Chiang noted. However, there are some enthusiastic doctors out there looking for new ways to educate and connect with patients — for these providers, developing a strong social media presence could be a great option, he said.
Photo: studiostockart, Getty Images