Facebook Moves the Needle on the Number of Registered Organ Donors

FB-ThumbsUp_1024Findings published in the American Journal of Transplantation provide some evidence that Facebook’s influence on organ donation might be working. In May of last year it was widely publicized that Facebook had created a way for users to display their organ donor status on their profiles.

“On the first day of the Facebook organ donor initiative, there were 13,054 new online registrations, representing a 21.1-fold increase over the baseline average of 616 registrations,” the article’s abstract read.

Though a person who uses Facebook to indicate organ donor status isn’t automatically added to a database, the act isn’t futile. After being prompted with a link, many take the second step and sign up with their state registry. While this isn’t true of everyone, the number of people who have done it is significant.

Plus, in some cases the informal act can be used as a way to obtain a person’s wishes after they have passed. Organ procurement specialists contact families of the deceased to discuss whether or not they want their relative’s organs donated. If families know that the person had previously classified himself as an “Organ Donor,” it can make the decision an easier one.

According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network there are about 118,500 candidates waiting for an organ in the United States. More than 6,800 donors, 5,456 of whom were deceased, have had their organs transplanted in 2013 to date. Still, thousands on the waiting list will not have their needs met this year.

Even though the number of registered donors has increased, data on whether or not this has an impact on the number of transplants performed could take decades to obtain.

Associate Professor of Surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Andrew M. Cameron, MD, PhD, is optimistic. Cameron is a former classmate of Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. The Harvard alumni first discussed the idea for a Facebook organ donor project at their 20th college reunion in 2011.

“The short-term response was incredibly dramatic, unlike anything we had ever seen before in campaigns to increase the organ donation rate,” Cameron said in a press release.

“The need for donor organs vastly outpaces the available supply and this could be a way to change that equation.”

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