Study shows social media’s potential to increase organ donations

We often think of social media as a way to connect with friends, family or customers, but new research shows it can also enable us to help others.

When Facebook created a way for users to share their organ donor status and added links to make it easy to sign up as an organ donor, the social media site saw a 21.2-fold increase in new online donor registrations in one day.

While impressive, Johns Hopkins University researchers posted results in the American Journal of Transplantation that 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 Johns Hopkins University associate professor of surgery.

There certainly is a need for organ donors. According to statistics from the United Network for Organ Sharing, there are about 120,000 people on organ waiting lists, and 96,000 are waiting for kidneys alone. The Johns Hopkins University researchers said average daily organ donor registrations total 616 nationwide.

It is a great gift to sign up as an organ donor in the event of death, no doubt. But now the power of social networks, including Facebook, can help increase the number of live organ donations, like 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, which is based in Richmond, Va.

Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network data from January to March of 2013 show there were 5,436 deceased-donor transplants, compared with 1,435 live-donor transplants.

Fleming, who recently wrapped up the group’s annual meeting, said the nonprofit 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 both live donors and those at death, including the standardization of organ donation processes. He added that half of kidney transplants now are from live donors.

Cameron also said there should be mobile applications that make it easier for patients who need a transplant to reach out to people on social media and ask them to consider being live donors, and to search 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, Facebook’s COO, began talking about organ shortages at their 20-year college reunion.

A version of this article originally appeared on SmartBlog on Social Media. (Image via)

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