Post from a HEE supported student on the UCL Health Module about the use of TokTok for improving health literacy.

From students on the Health Librarianship module for Library and Information Studies at University College London (UCL).

As part of their assignment, we asked the students to write reflective pieces looking at a topic they had enjoyed from the course. Here is a fourth piece for you to read.

Will TikTok be a health information source to improve the health literacy level?

Heath literacy plays a significant role in our daily life, which could help us to get appropriate healthcare and make informed decisions on health matters.

When people get sick or encounter medical issues, without sufficient health literacy they may get confused about  fundamental medical knowledge, and queries are always like “whether they should take such treatment?”, “how to use this kind of medical equipment?”, “could they drink alcohol after taking paracetamol?”, “why is it important to have the HPV vaccine?” et al. Health literacy level will influence their health conditions, especially in older people a low level will cause higher mortality.

However, the health literacy level in England is not that encouraging according to Rowlands, G. et al. (2015), TikTok is a newly born social media app over the past few years, which accumulated amounts of users in a short time, mainly popularized among youngsters (Doyle, 2023). Even more, TikTok officially has over 1 billion monthly active users in 2021 (CNBC, 2021).

Short videos could attract young generations to engage in the plot as moving image is convenient and direct for users to reach and understand the context without reading every character and formulating the illustration in their mind. The well-crafted video is very fascinating and could be spread broadly which to some extent could be meaningful to promoting equality in education (Cahnmann-Taylor et al., 2023).

Combining TikTok with health literacy could accelerate the dissemination of medical health information. It is well-designed to cater to the millennial generation, especially after the pandemic. Also, TikTok is a kind of recreational application and watching short videos only costs coffee time but could relax your mind and simultaneously get
fresh knowledge.

As Song, S. et al. (2022) discussed that health information adoption intention happened because of one’s intrinsic motivations. That is also the potential reason TikTok booming in this era. Young people are busy with their work and there is a desire to get useful health information in a short time but also get joyful and relaxed.

There is an example from my own experience, I burned my hand due to the boiling water. At that moment, my intuition also could say my health literacy repository told me I need to put my hand in the cold water right now, so I ran to the kitchen and turned on the tap water and kept my burned hand rinsing constantly. At the same time, I turn on my TikTok (Chinese version) and search for urgent treatment for burned skin.

Fortunately, there are loads of self-publishers who already uploaded relevant videos before. What's more, most of the videos are shoot by professional doctors or experts themselves. TikTok will verify the expert's identity first and then they will get the official title from TikTok, so users could trust their videos and suggestions.

Also, the comments and replies under the videos are also supplementary knowledge to look around the overall scope of the health information (Song et al., 2021). The instant video really helps me to deal with my injury in the right way emergently. However, the users in TikTok are mostly youngsters, and how to help seniors to break the barriers and improve health literacy remains to consider deeply.


Yuhan Lin


Ms Gill Young


Knowledge and Library Services Development Manager - Northwest