Facebook’s Attempt to Encourage Users to Join the Organ Donor List was Effective, Study Finds
The subject of donating organs has gotten more attention after 10-year-old Sarah Murnaghan's legal battle to get an adult lung in order to survive was the center of health news for weeks. Murnaghan's case was just one of thousands of patients regardless of age whose lives depend on the organ transplant waiting list. According to Time, there are currently 75,660 patients on the United States transplant list. These patients wait months for an organ that could save their lives or they end up dying during the process. Due to the lack of organs and the difficulty of finding a match, several campaigns have used different methods of promoting people to become organ donors. One of the most recent campaigns was headed by the social media website, Facebook.
Starting last May, Facebook gave users the option of posting their organ donor statuses on their timelines. The website wanted to see if more people would join organ donor lists when their statuses were publicized to their friends and family. The project that studied the effect of these new statuses, headed by researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, focused on donor registrations and organ list activity within the first few weeks after Facebook started this new feature.
"Our research speaks to ongoing efforts to address the organ availability crisis in the United States. It also suggests that social media and social networks may be valuable tools in re-approaching refractory public health problems," Dr. Andrew Cameron said, according to Time. "However, the bump we saw did diminish over weeks, implying that more work is needed to assure sustainability or 'virality' in this case."
The researchers found that in all states, there was a spike in donor registrations within the initial weeks after the launch. On the launch day specifically, the researchers recorded 13,054 new registrations that happened online. The number represented a 20-fold jump from the average of 616 registrations. In Michigan, organ registration increased by six times while Georgia, the registry experienced a 108-fold increase. These numbers continued to be above average until after several weeks. The researchers believe that by studying how online groups and initiatives can improve organ donor rates, better tactics and methods could be enlisted to help with several medical-related issues.
"This knowledge will be helpful as we design future interventions to improve the low, static organ donation rates that continue to complicate the organ availability crisis in transplantation or reapproach other refractory public health problems via social media and social networks," the authors wrote.
The Facebook option works by alerting a user's group of friends about his/her donor status. Users first have to create a "Life Event," which allows them to click on "Health & Wellness" and then "Organ Donor." After selecting the status of being an "Organ Donor," the user is provided with a list of links that help with registering. Facebook does not actually register the user immediately after clicking on this status.
The findings were published in American Journal of Transplantation.