Spotlight Series: A Pioneer in Medicine and Media
Austin Chiang, MD, MPH, is a pioneer on multiple fronts.
As director of the Division’s Endoscopic Bariatric Program, Dr. Chiang performs scarless weight loss procedures both as a primary treatment and as a follow-up to previous bariatric surgeries. As Jefferson Health’s first Chief Medical Social Media Officer and founding president of the Association for Healthcare Social Media (AHSM), he is helping forge the future of medical communications. And through his own vibrant social media presence, he has attracted national attention, including a nomination for a 2021 GLAAD Media Award.
Originally from Southern California, Dr. Chiang spent part of his childhood in Taiwan before returning to the United States to attend college at Duke University. He went on to medical school at Columbia University and stayed for an Internal Medicine residency at New York Presbyterian Hospital. From there, he moved to Boston to complete gastroenterology and bariatric endoscopy fellowships at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which offered the only formal bariatric endoscopy program at that time. While in Boston, Dr. Chiang earned a Master of Public Health from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He then spent a year at Jefferson, completing an advanced endoscopy fellowship before joining the faculty as an assistant professor in 2018.
Dr. Chiang is among the first physicians to perform endoscopic bariatric procedures (all of which are part of a medically supervised program including lifestyle and dietary modifications):
- Intragastric balloon. Dr. Chiang places a fluid-filled balloon in the patient’s stomach, which promotes weight loss by providing a sensation of fullness and slowing stomach emptying. The balloon remains in place for six months before being removed endoscopically.
- Endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty. With this minimally invasive procedure, Dr. Chiang uses an endoscopic suturing device to narrow the stomach into a sleeve. This mimics the result of a surgical sleeve gastrectomy without the need for surgery or overnight hospitalization.
- Weight regain after gastric bypass. As Dr. Chiang notes, “Many patients who previously underwent gastric bypass surgery suffer from weight regain years after the initial surgery. This often results from stretching of the ‘outlet’ where the stomach pouch is connected to the small bowel.” He uses an endoscopic suturing device to repair and narrow this outlet – often known as the Transoral Outlet Reduction or TORe procedure – thereby re-instating weight loss.
“These endoscopic options are especially attractive for patients who are not surgical candidates for whatever reason,” Dr. Chiang said. “They’re also ideal when a surgeon won’t go back in for a second bariatric surgery.” He frequently receives referrals from orthopedic surgeons with patients who need to lose weight before undergoing knee replacement.
In addition to bariatric procedures, Dr. Chiang performs a full range of advanced endoscopic procedures spanning the esophagus, stomach, intestine/colon, bile ducts, pancreas and liver. Because of his obesity medicine training, he also can prescribe FDA-approved weight loss medications.
Alongside his clinical experience, Dr. Chiang is a trailblazer in the use of social media to educate, engage and empower patients.
“I’ve always been a fan of social media,” he says. “Having grown up in this generation, I realized that patients don’t get most of their medical information from brief encounters in clinical settings. They’re searching for that from sources outside the clinic or hospital.”
Rather than fight that reality, Dr. Chiang embraced it. As @AustinChiangMD, he creates and distributes “snackable” content on a range of topics – from debunking misinformation to explaining treatment options and sharing highlights of life as a physician and professor. He has a strong presence across platforms (including Instagram, Twitter and YouTube) and is especially popular on TikTok, where his channel has more than 400,000 followers, over 120 million views and nearly 15 million likes.
“When I first started posting on TikTok, I never intended for my colleagues to see it. I intended it for the rest of the public,” Dr. Chiang recalls. “But my colleagues’ kids started to find me, and they would ask their parents, ‘Do you know this guy?’”
Thanks to hundreds of thousands of followers and extensive media coverage across local and national outlets, the answer to that question is increasingly a resounding “yes!”
To make an appointment, refer a patient, or learn more, visit Dr. Chiang’s health profile.