High Levels of Engagement in TikTok Palliative Care Videos

By Teresa Hagan Thomas, PhD, RN - Last Updated: October 31, 2022

Palliative care is an effective yet underutilized source of support for patients with cancer. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) recommends palliative care for all patients diagnosed with advanced cancer, and patients with earlier stage cancer can likewise benefit from palliative care’s focus on symptom management, coping, and communication. Yet, palliative care services are often underutilized in the oncology setting due to misperceptions of palliative care being the same as hospice or end-of-life care, lack of information about palliative care, or lack of communication between patients and health care providers.

Social media is a promising communication platform to raise awareness about health care issues and educate the public about health topics like palliative care. Recently, Sanjana Easwar, a medical student at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine, led a review of TikTok videos about palliative care and published her findings in the Journal of Palliative Medicine.

The research team found that 146 videos were posted that used the term “palliative” and were in English. They catalogued each video’s contents and social media engagement. In total, 56% of videos were posted by health care professional (only 8% of the total videos were posted by nurses), 33% by patients, and 8% by caregivers. Additionally, 71% of videos were posted by women; 95% were live recordings, and many included music (60%) or captions on the screen (38%). In the video, authors frequently talked (46%), danced (16%), and lip synced to songs (9%).

Videos described at least one of the following five general themes:

  1. Describing personal experiences related to palliative care.
  2. Educating others about palliative care, primarily to increase understanding of what palliative care includes and entails.
  3. Addressing common misperceptions of palliative care.
  4. Responding to questions about palliative care, including other TikTok users’ replies or comments.
  5. Raising awareness of the existence and benefits of palliative care.

In terms of engagement, caregiver videos were the most likely to be viewed and liked. Health care professionals’ videos were the most frequently shared. Engagement was highest among videos describing personal experiences and education.

Based on these results, the research team recommends the following advice for TikTok users looking to create content that is likely to be viewed, shared, liked, and commented on:

  • Create a selfie-style video that is live, rather than a formal slideshow
  • Add music to the video
  • Create captions for the video
  • Emphasize talking during the video, and not focus on other elements like dance
  • Present alone rather than with others
  • Increase the video’s discoverability by using a hashtag like #palliativecare

This study demonstrates how the effective use of common social media platforms like TikTok, which has over 1 billion users worldwide including 130 million active users in the United States, can assist nurses in promoting awareness of health issues like palliative care. Nurses made a small number of the palliative care videos analyzed in this study. This may reflect nurses’ low overall engagement in sharing health related information on social media.

Oncology nurses interested in raising awareness about cancer prevention, cancer treatment and survivorship, and supporting workforce issues could employ strategies like the ones in this study to address broadscale health concerns. As some of the most trusted health professionals, nurses have the clout that could propel the impact of their social media content. Delivering nurses’ knowledge through social media could assist nurses’ public health mission to keep populations safe and healthy.



Palliative Care TikTok: Describing the Landscape and Explaining Social Media Engagement