THE FORUM: Social Media and Modern Medicine

By: Dr. Sanjay Juneja

October 31, 2022

Cancer is arguably the biggest arch-nemesis of all humankind. We all disagree on a lot of things — politics, the environment, or anything else you can name, but no matter your beliefs or background, we can all agree that cancer is one of our greatest challenges.

We’ve made significant progress in our fight against our greatest nemesis, but despite the ground we have covered, communities across the country are facing challenges in the implementation of the treatments and technologies we’ve made.

To put this into perspective, I want you to think of a book series that you enjoy. The books in a series follow the same overarching storyline, they have similar themes, and many overlapping characters, and yet, the content of each book is unique. That’s how cancer treatments and therapies work — they have a common goal, some even use the same technologies, but they all have varying factors that differentiate it from the next treatment. It’s easy to remember the plot of a handful of books, the same way it’s easy for an oncologist to remember a handful of treatments, their effects, and their outcomes.

The scope of cancer treatment is a library. Some communities have a handful of librarians, many only have one or two, and some have none at all.

And in the United States, it takes at least 14 years to become an oncologist. The barriers to practicing oncology make it difficult to ensure every community has adequately trained, highly educated specialists who have a complete understanding of the wide range of therapies, treatments, and technologies available to our patients.

I first got on TikTok to help me find balance during my Chief Fellow Year, and I liked the platform because it doesn’t function like other social sites. It’s not contingent on relationships, and your followers don’t even have to know you. You take your video, it goes into a black hole, and then it pops on random people’s feeds. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know who they are or don’t follow them.

I quickly gained a following for doing silly things, like dances, but as I gained followers, I remembered why I was there. Balance.

I had a good thing going, and it was important for me to make sure this wasn’t in vain, so I started thinking about how I could make TikTok productive.

At first, I covered gender bias in medicine, because my wife, who has her masters, scored well on her board exams, and has three specialties, has had a drastically different experience than me. This was the launching pad for sharing our knowledge and experiences on TikTok.

Eventually, I made an intentional shift in my content to focus on topics that could help people immediately by capitalizing on the societal shift we are seeing within the medical field. Patients want to be involved in their care now more than ever. They want to know what’s going on, that they’re given the best available options, and that their doctors are giving them the opportunity to beat their diagnosis.

We’ve seen TikTok become a valuable tool for educating patients on how to upgrade their standard of care; it gives medical providers the opportunity to share information on treatments as soon as they’re FDA approved. And by sharing them with our audience, we are equipping them with the knowledge they need to ensure their heightened standard of care is met.

Because the thing that hurts more than not having a therapy or course of treatment, is having the treatment exist and it not being used because we don’t know better.