When liver transplant surgeon Andrew Cameron caught up with friend and former classmate Sheryl Sandberg, they discussed the plight of people on the organ transplant waiting list. As the chief operating officer for Facebook, Sandberg had some ideas about how social media could help people on the list identify organ donors.
“There are 100,000 people on the wait list in the U.S.,” says Cameron. “The reason is they are often hesitant to tell their story. As a result, their friends and family don’t even know what’s going on with them.”
Sandberg suggested the development of an app to guide people to write their stories. The app would ask questions, the user would answer them, and a carefully crafted story would result and be posted on Facebook. In addition, the app would automatically include links to reputable information on becoming a living donor. Cameron loved the idea.
“The one-way communication of a post on Facebook is noncoercive, and there is no pressure to respond one way or another,” he says. “If a person is inclined to be a living organ donor, there are links to information to facilitate the next steps.”
Facebook sponsored the first rendition of the mobile app and, in 2016, Cameron gave 53 of his patients on the transplant waiting list access to it. As a result, people who used the app were six times more likely to identify a potential donor than those who didn’t use it.
Now, Cameron is leading a two-year study at three medical centers comparing the results of using the app, using the standard approach to finding a donor and using the app plus another means of finding living donors.