Healthcare marketers: Here’s how you should be approaching TikTok

These learnings are adapted from our McGuffin Mornings event #DOCTOK: TikTok for Health Systems with Katie Hunter. You can access a full recording of the event here.
TikTok has officially staked its claim as a social media giant, reaching 1.5 billion users globally in 2023 (a 16% increase from 2022). The app’s rapid growth amongst a younger demographic quickly shifted to be a place for users of all generations in the U.S. That means there’s a good chance your audience has found their way to TikTok, as well.
Wondering how the TikTok and healthcare platforms might find common ground, we asked our friend and creative director/content creator for RUSH Medical Center (and formerly Northwestern Medicine) Katie Hunter, how can healthcare marketers use TikTok to reach patients, donors and more? How do you even start producing consistent short-form video for your brand, let alone turn it into an effective tool for engagement?
Katie first launched Northwestern Medicine’s (Illinois’ #1 hospital) TikTok as a pandemic pet project. Needless to say, it blew up. Katie and team were able to create interesting, relatable and helpful content specifically for TikTok, highlighting everything from surgeon interviews to gender-affirming healthcare testimonials. The launch paved the way for authentic connections with patients on an entirely new platform and became a case study for how to use short-form video in a privacy-restricted industry.

But the team didn’t get viral videos overnight. It took risk, experimentation and persistence to build the channel into a successful patient touchpoint. Here are some of Katie’s best tips to get started on creating TikTok content for your healthcare brand:


After 422 days, Colette Hurd headed home from the hospital. Colette, a 57-year-old Chicagoan, spent more than a year at Northwestern Memorial Hospital battling health issues related to pulmonary hypertension, a condition that weakens the heart and lungs over time. Colette was diagnosed in May 2020, and the condition led to her needing a kidney and double-lung transplant. In May 2022, Colette’s transplant team accepted organs that were not the right match for her. Then, they got rid of the antibodies in Colette’s bloodstream preventing a good organ match. On August 11, she was discharged after being the first positive crossmatch lung and kidney transplant recipient at Northwestern Medicine. “I now call myself ‘Colette 2.0’ — new and improved. I have a second chance at life,” she says. Introducing, Colette 2.0! 💜👑 #Transplant #LungTransplant #KidneyTransplant #DocTok #NMBetter

♬ original sound – Northwestern Medicine

Be authentic

Where TikTok has differentiated itself is in its reputation for authenticity; unlike the shiny, filtered photos of Instagram and the fake news of Facebook, TikTok is known for real, raw video content that gives viewers a direct look into the perspective of the poster. That can be an intimidating place for a healthcare brand to walk into, but Katie and team dove in headfirst and discovered these insights in their first year on the platform:

  1. TikTok celebrates and rewards authenticity and creativity.
  2. TikTok users want to learn on the platform. (Videos sharing expertise and patient stories were top performers.)
  3. Content on TikTok tends to fall into four main categories: Informative, Trends and Challenges, Influencer Entertainment and Real/Raw 

Using TikTok as an educational tool is an important way for healthcare systems to get their foot in the door with short-form video. As Katie said, users want to learn. What’s more important than learning about your own health and medical advancements that could impact you and those you love?


Getting a #colonoscopy may seem scary if you don’t know what to expect. Help demystify the experience with this behind-the-scenes look at a colonoscopy procedure with RUSH colorectal surgeon Henry Govekar, MD. #ColoRectalCancerAwareness #ColoRectalCancer #ColoRectalSurgeon #ColonCancer #ColonCancerAwareness #ColonCancerPrevention #ColonCancersAwareness

♬ Behind the Scenes of a Colonoscopy at RUSH – RUSH

It’s best to start early in exposing most healthy babies under age one to potentially allergenic foods. You may do so as soon as your baby begins eating solid food. There’s no evidence that waiting until children are older has any benefits. In fact, introducing potentially allergenic foods like egg early and often may help prevent the development of food allergies.

♬ Calm background music with acoustic guitar and saxophone(1288148) – ame

Start with organic

Creating organic video content is the best way to get started. One of Katie’s most important directives from our discussion was: Don’t make marketing videos. Make TikToks!
As marketers, we’re used to speaking in promotional language and having a certain tone of voice. Of course, it’s important to remain professional, but your content will flop if it isn’t tailored for the TikTok audience. This content should not sound like your other branded content, or even Instagram or Twitter content. 
In order to be as creative and authentic as possible, you should start a consistent production schedule with your team. As an example, Katie suggests:

  • 1–2 hours of scripting
  • 1 week of production
  • 1–2 days of review

You should also implement regular brainstorming sessions for video ideas. With quick, bite-sized content, you need a lot of it to keep users interested. So, keep a running list of ideas to revisit for future videos. Think about including folks from other departments as well to keep new ideas flowing.

Finally, don’t be afraid to post. Every video will be a learning opportunity. The feedback you get (or lack of it) will inform your strategy moving forward. TikTok trends move rapidly, so don’t take a month to post your idea or the trend will be long gone.

Paid posts

Once you master your approach to organic TikTok content, Katie has several recommendations for creating great ads on the platform:

  1. Get your message out early – ideally within the first 3 seconds; attention spans are short.  
  2. Ride on the latest trends – check trending sounds and topics often to see which are appropriate to adapt for your brand. Quick turnaround time is important or you’ll miss the trend, in a matter of hours or days.
  3. Shoot natively for TikTok – TikToks shot vertically have an average 25% higher 6-second watch-through rate. When shooting for TikTok, try to also strike a balance between authentic-looking content that can live in between user-generated videos and a polished advertising look.
  4. Include a CTA – is there ever a time we shouldn’t include a strong call to action? This is no exception. Drive to a link to sign up for emails, set up an appointment, fill out an interest form, etc.

As you’re experimenting with the platform, remember to have fun with it. Not all videos will be a viral hit, but the more you post and the more time you spend finding your brand’s authentic voice on the platform, the higher returns on engagement will be.

You can connect with Katie here to chat more about TikTok.