Issue No. 20
Sharing is CaringDate: April 19, 2013
Johns Hopkins and Facebook harness the power of social media to increase organ donations
Almost every hour of every day, someone in the United States dies waiting for an organ transplant. But it doesn’t have to be that way—and Johns Hopkins is working with Facebook to change it.
Anyone can register to be an organ donor through his or her state’s motor vehicle department. But even though a 2005 Gallup poll showed that 95 percent of Americans support organ donation, a little more than half have granted permission to donate their organs or tissue on a driver’s license or an organ donor card.
“People aren’t always comfortable talking about organ donation or just don’t understand it,” says Andrew Cameron, M.D., a transplant surgeon at Johns Hopkins. “We wanted to make it easier to have that conversation and register as a donor.”
That idea became a reality in May 2012, after Cameron and his former Harvard classmate, Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, started brainstorming at a reunion the year before.
Facebook users now can add “Registered as an Organ Donor” to their Facebook timeline as a “Life Event.” They can also click a link and register as a donor in a matter of minutes (see “State Your Intentions” at right) and share this information with their friends.
“It’s a comfortable environment to gather data and make an informed decision about organ donation,” Cameron says. “It also gives people a place to share their wishes about what happens to them after they’re gone.”
Just two weeks after the Facebook initiative launched, Cameron says, the number of registered organ donors nationwide increased by 2,000 percent.
Although Facebook facilitates registration only for deceased donations, the social phenomenon improves the search for live donations, too. For example, Cameron says, Johns Hopkins developed a program that teaches an advocate, usually a friend or a relative, how to spread the word about a loved one’s need for a live kidney donor; researchers discovered these advocates improve the odds of finding a donor by nearly 50 percent.
“We’ve seen the difference that kind of advocacy makes,” Cameron says, “and we think it’s something that can be enhanced by social media and Facebook.”
State Your Intentions
To register as an organ donor through Facebook:
- Go to your profile page (you’ll see your profile and cover photos).
- Where you would type your status update, click “Life Event.”
- Click “Health & Wellness” and then “Organ Donor.”
- Enter all the details you want to share with your friends.
- Click “Save.”
To register officially through Donate Life America, a nonprofit alliance of state and national registries, click “sign up with the appropriate registry” before you save your Life Event or go directly to bit.ly/stateintentions. There, click your state to open up the registration form for your area.