Patient 'influencers,' reaching Gen Z: Why hospitals are on TikTok

Hospital and health system marketing leaders told Becker's they're using TikTok to reach its patients "where they are."

Coral Gables-based Baptist Health South Florida created a TikTok account at the height of the pandemic in 2021, when more patients were using social media to find healthcare information online, according to Christine Kotler, chief marketing and communications officer.

"With 40 percent of social media users finding information on TikTok over Google as a search engine, we saw the opportunity to meet consumers where they are to provide relevant and important information," she said. "For us, TikTok has been a great way to introduce potential and existing patients to the Baptist Health brand in a different light."

The video-centric social media platform, which is the second-most popular app for Americans under 35 years old, has 113 million U.S. monthly users on its app, making U.S. consumers the largest population on TikTok, according to Statista. 

Renton, Wash.-based Providence uses TikTok to educate the public about important topics, like staying healthy during flu season, and fun ones, such as, "Why does 7UP make you burp?" said Mary Renouf, vice president of community engagement and patient communication. It has allowed the health system to connect with a younger audience on issues like mental health, which had been a challenge on other platforms.

"While not reaching the same levels of investment as our paid campaigns on Facebook or Instagram, TikTok has been extremely effective at driving clicks to free mental health resources through our influencer partner channels," Ms. Renouf said.

The platform also lets hospitals engage with parents of young children, as more than 85 percent of its users are between the ages of 16 and 44, said Christine Albert, chief experience officer for New Orleans-based LCMC Health, whose Children's Hospital New Orleans has a TikTok account.

"TikTok is an important channel specifically for our children's hospital in engaging its target audience, and is a social media channel that many children's hospitals across the country have adopted over the last several years to elevate health and wellness information and other messaging priorities," Ms. Albert said.

Tampa, Fla.-based Shriners Children's noticed the migration from social media users to TikTok in 2020 and "remained on the sidelines observing" for a year before starting an account in the summer of 2021, said Anthony Watts, the health system's director of digital marketing.

Shriners hoped to engage with new users and reunite with followers who may have left other platforms, he said. The health system's Facebook and Instagram accounts had been stagnant for a few years, especially among younger people.

"The growth and engagement has been more gradual than we anticipated but it has been steady. In fact, many of our patients are using TikTok to share their unique healthcare journey and frequently mention Shriners Children's," Mr. Watts said.

He said TikTok has helped with brand awareness, storytelling and health education, and the health system has been able to find stories its own patient "influencers" are sharing on the platform. On the downside, he said, TikTok doesn't allow account holders to add links to individual posts.

At Chicago-based Rush University System for Health, a TikTok video about monkeypox posted within days of the outbreak got more than 62,000 views.

"Less than half of TikTok's primary audience — the Gen Z demographic — has a primary care physician, and it has grown accustomed to real-time access to information from their social circles," said Thurston Hatcher, director of content strategy and social media for Rush. "This creates a unique and important opportunity to inform."

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