HHS readies for Facebook organ donation initiative

The Health and Human Services Department is preparing for a surge of interest in organ donation due to a new initiative announced May 1 by Facebook.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company would begin allowing users to publish their organ donor status on their Timeline profiles. The social network also plans to help its 160 million users in the United States locate and sign up with state donor registries.

While some have called it a publicity stunt, HHS officials said Facebook's involvement could result in a large increase in commitments to donations.

HHS’ Health Resources and Services Administration, which regulates organ donation in the U.S., supports Facebook’s initiative, said HRSA spokesman David Bowman. While the agency is not directly involved with the Facebook campaign, an increase in interest could put more demand on the agency's support systems, including databases and IT systems, along with those of state agencies and contractors.

“Getting the word out to potential donors is a priority,” Bowman said. “Facebook has a huge reach, and this will be a great service.”

HRSA operates the Organdonor.gov website, which provides basic information about organ donation and transplantation and referrals to the state registries. It also oversees the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, which maintains a national patient waiting list for available organs.

About 100 million people in the U.S. have made some type of commitment to donate organs or tissues. About 114,000 people are waiting for organs to become available.

Since most organ donations occur following death, the full impact of Facebook’s campaign likely will not be known for years, although there may be some surge in kidney donations from living donors. Facebook already is a popular resource for families to seek prospective kidney donors.

About 35 percent of the 17,000 kidney donations a year currently come from family members and friends, and it is a possible that proportion may increase due to Facebook’s campaign to make organ donation a more prominent feature of the social network, said Joel Newman, assistant director of communications for the United Network for Organ Sharing, a nonprofit organization that manages the U.S. transplant system under contract with HRSA.

Since organ donation is a serious commitment, and many people have questions, the impact of Facebook’s campaign may take several weeks or months to determine, Newman added.

“This is the start of a conversation,” he said. “It is a great opportunity to get more people to move from ‘I’m thinking about it’ to action and commitment.”

Current HRSA, contractor and state databases and information technology systems should be adequate to handle any capacity increases that might result from the Facebook donor encouragement campaign, Bowman and Newman said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.

Featured

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1996, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

  • Shutterstock image.

    Merged IT modernization bill punts on funding

    A House panel approved a new IT modernization bill that appears poised to pass, but key funding questions are left for appropriators.

  • General Frost

    Army wants cyber capability everywhere

    The Army's cyber director said cyber, electronic warfare and information operations must be integrated into warfighters' doctrine and training.

  • Rising Star 2013

    Meet the 2016 Rising Stars

    FCW honors 30 early-career leaders in federal IT.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group