When Facebook created a way for users to share their organ donor status and added links to make signing up as an organ donor easy, the social media site saw a 21.2-fold increase in new online registrations in a single day.
While very impressive, the results posted by Johns Hopkins University researchers in the American Journal of Transplantation really show the huge potential for social media as a public health tool.
“It’s the power of social networking as a source for public good,” said study leader Dr. Andrew Cameron, a transplant surgeon and JHU associate professor of surgery.
There certainly is a need for organ donors, with about 120,000 people on organ waiting lists — 96,000 for kidneys alone, according to statistics from the United Network for Organ Sharing or UNOS. The JHU researchers said average daily organ donor registrations total 616 per day nationwide.
Signing up as an organ donor in the event in the event of death is a great gift, no doubt. But now the power of social networks, including Facebook, can help increase the number of live organ donations, such as giving a kidney to a friend or relative.
“In that area, it will be a game changer,” said David Fleming, CEO of Donate Life America, based in Richmond, Va.
Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network data show from January to March this year, there were 5,436 deceased donor transplants, compared with 1,435 live donor transplants.
Fleming, who just wrapped up the group’s annual meeting, said the non-profit group agreed to work toward streamlining organ donation processes to make it easier to sign up, and that means creating ways to register on mobile devices.
“We just have to take advantage of this incredible tool (social media),” he said.
Cameron agreed there is a lot more to do to promote donations from live donors and at death, including the standardization of organ donation processes. He added half of kidney transplants now are from live donors.
He said there should be mobile device applications that make it easier for patients needing a transplant to reach out to friends and others on social media, to ask them to consider being a live donor and and to search more broadly for other potential donors.
“This is a very, very hard, awkward thing for people to do,” Cameron said.
The Facebook organ donation project began when Cameron and Harvard University classmate Sheryl Sandberg, who is Facebook COO, began talking about organ shortages at their 20th college reunion.