A significant amount of hypertension (HTN)-related information on the popular video sharing app TikTok is not presented by qualified health care professionals, according to new research presented at the American College of Cardiology’s (ACC) 71st Annual Scientific Session, held April 2-4, 2022.
“A lot of the information in these videos didn’t have any explicit source mentioned in the video, so viewers might not know if it’s coming from a credible source,” said lead study author Nanda Siva, a third-year medical student at West Virginia University School of Medicine, in an ACC press release. “Most of the people who were posting these kinds of videos were not health care providers, and the number of cardiologists was small.”
The research team was comprised of Siva and fellow medical students from West Virginia University and The George Washington University who were mentored by Arka Chatterjee, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Arizona.
With medical information becoming increasingly prevalent on social media, investigators sought to examine how health care information is distributed on 1 popular platform, TikTok. The team reviewed 91 TikTok videos in total associated with the 2 most popular HTN-related hashtags on a single day (October 11, 2021), which were #highbloodpressure (n=58) and #hypertension (n=33). The final videos were chosen from the top 100 videos for each hashtag, and those that were not in English or related to HTN were excluded.
Content categorization of the videos identified 89% as educational, 12% as patient experience/opinion, and 14% as self-promotion/advertisement, according to the study abstract. Diet was mentioned in 43% of videos while exercise, another key component of cardiovascular health, was mentioned in just 5% of videos.
The team found that medical treatments were mentioned in 14% of videos, while 42% discussed alternative medicine treatments such as herbal supplements, acupuncture, or massage techniques that have not been shown to improve cardiovascular outcomes in recent trials. For example, one of the top-ranked videos included in the study instructed viewers to rub behind their ear 36 times a day to stabilize blood pressure.
“It’s easy for individuals to feed on a patient’s desire for an easier fix to their problem or their desire to not use medications,” said Siva. “If videos are being made about proven lifestyle changes, or the importance of medication compliance, that’s not what’s making it into the top 100s on TikTok. That’s not what’s being shared and being seen.”
Siva et al looked at each creator’s profile on TikTok to identify who had a medical background. If a creator’s background was unclear, then researchers performed additional searches. Overall, results showed that 47% of the videos were presented by health care professionals while only 5% were presented by cardiologists.
According to the press release, there were 2 critical limitations to the study. The first was that the researchers did not examine the age of the persons viewing the videos, and the second was the reliance on video rankings from just 1 day as the mix of top videos can change quickly as new content goes viral.
Siva noted that because health problems, like HTN, can become more common as individuals age, demographic trends may increase social media’s role as a channel for health information.
“I think it’s going to become more and more important as time goes on,” said Siva. “As the generation that is getting older is more active on social media, this is the information that they’ll be seeing more often. We [health care professionals] have to lead the charge on this because if we fall behind, there’s going to be even more misinformation than there already is.”
Siva will present the study, “Evaluating Hypertension-Related Content on TikTok: A Social Media Analysis,” on Saturday, April 2, at 3:45 p.m. ET / 19:45 UTC in Poster Hall, Hall C.