Photo: Yuri Markarov, Unity Health Toronto
We all know that no one has less time on their hands to dig for information online than parents, so it's no surprise that many gravitate towards the easiest and quickest place to find it: social media. But while Ripudaman Singh Minhas, a Toronto-based developmental paediatrician, noticed late last year that many doctors and nurses were starting to share medical information on various platforms, he couldn’t find content that was specifically designed for the unique health needs and parenting styles of racialized or marginalized communities. That’s when he took to Instagram and TikTok with his Punjabi Kids Health videos, covering topics like COVID-19, nutrition, mental health and autism.
Because the majority of TikTok users are teens and young adults, Minhas and his team (made up of other healthcare professionals, social media strategists and student researchers who all identify as part of the Punjabi community) were surprised by their warm welcome into this virtual space. The videos on the Punjabi Kids’ Health TikTok page are all less than a minute long and include Minhas pointing to facts and tips on screen while a trending song plays in the background. They were clearly on to something—the accounts have taken off, gaining more than 12,000 followers across the two platforms since January.
We caught up with the TikTok doctor to find out why so many people are drawn to his videos and why it’s so important to have culturally adapted medical content available for the South Asian community.
What inspired you to start using social media as an informational tool?
A lot of parents within my practice, the majority of which are racialized, and certainly within other communities, have been feeling isolated and disconnected during the pandemic, and so we wanted to create something that allowed for access to evidence-based information and that allowed families to be supported during this really tough time. When we put up the first few posts, which were focused on sleeping, we were surprised by how much it resonated with people who identify as a part of the community, but also practitioners and professionals who work with them as well.
Is it hard to provide advice that’s helpful but general enough for a public platform?
We want to make something that is accessible and helps families but at the same time, it's not a replacement for one-on-one connection with your healthcare provider. We're in an international space online, with about half of our community coming from places like the USA, UK, India, Pakistan and Australia, so we do mention that what we say may differ based on your jurisdiction and even that the availability of interventions and treatments might be different as well.
How are you addressing COVID-19 as it relates to the South Asian community?
The South Asian community, across the diaspora, but certainly within Canada, has been particularly hard hit by COVID-19 over the past year. There are a lot of thoughts around why that is, including the proportion of the South Asian community that engages in essential work or frontline work, and also more structural inequities as well. You have a community that is suffering disproportionately, but is also being blamed in a way and is experiencing finger pointing and racial gaslighting. This is something that we’ve tried to cover along with international events like the Indian farmers' protests and how they’re impacting other families in the diaspora. This may not be covered in mainstream media, but it's very much on people's minds and is causing this communal sorrow and trauma.
What is lost when South Asian families don't have healthcare providers that are also South Asian?
Some studies show there are improved health outcomes for families when they are receiving care from someone who has a shared experience, especially if they’re from the same racial or cultural group. It's not just language that's the barrier sometimes, but there is just that feeling of being able to connect in a different way and to feel like you can share information in a forthcoming and judgment-free sort of space. That can sometimes be around traditions, either in terms of care practices, traditional remedies, or complementary alternative medications.
What topics and questions do you primarily see where South Asian culture or South Asian families may find themselves judged or misunderstood, and their parenting styles may rub up against those more Western medicinal styles?
I would say the interesting topics have been around nutrition, day-to-day routines, and behaviour management. We also see more Western perspectives on things like the idea that each child should have their own bedroom and their own bed, whereas that may not be as culturally accepted in other groups. It also may not be a reality based on what your household looks like.
Do you see a space for Punjabi Kids’ Health as we transition out of the pandemic?
I think even pre-pandemic, a lot of families were trying to connect online or accessing resources online. It can be tricky logistically to get in to see a provider and families also may feel rushed because of our current healthcare system, or they may not be aware of who to ask about certain topics, like behaviour management. I think there is going to be very much a space for this in the future as well.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.