Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Recruiting Kidney Donors and Cancer Patients through Social Media

Guest post by Brian Flora

Last month Tom Brady, the quarterback for the New England Patriots, lost his longtime personal coach Tom Martinez to a heart attack. Martinez was just days away from potentially life-saving kidney transplant surgery when he suffered a heart attack after dialysis, which took his life at the age of 67.

While this is sad news for sports fans, it’s become national news for another reason. Using the power of social media, Brady was able to get over 10,000 people to register with matchingdonors.com, a site that matches kidney patients with potential donors, as reported by the Baltimore Sun.

It was through Twitter and Facebook that Brady asked his extensive fan base to register with the site. Even though he wasn’t successful in saving the life of his friend and coach, he has developed a passion for helping people recognize the need to register as kidney donors. And he has shed light on the ability to use social media to recruit for medical purposes.

Activism through social media

The National Kidney Foundation in the United States estimates that over 100,000 people are on the national waiting list for a kidney transplant, and 30 percent of those will likely die before they’re able to receive a kidney. But because living donors can donate a kidney with little impact on their overall health, patients waiting for kidneys don’t always have to wait until a donor is deceased. Tom Brady and other celebrities like him are using social media to raise awareness about kidney diseases and transplants.

This story shows just how influential social media can be, even in the medical field. For patients, social media can provide a way to build support as they face treatment. For example, cancer patients need a tremendous amount of support as they fight their disease, yet they often don’t feel well enough to visit a support group or participate in other activities. Through social media, cancer patients can connect with others who have been down their road before, and get the support they so desperately need.

Doctors are also taking notice of these trends, particularly the ease with which Brady got his recruits. One area where this is particularly important is in trials for cancer treatment. Only about three to five percent of cancer patients participate in trials, according to the Biotech Strategy Blog, often because they are not informed about the trials available to them. Many doctors and researchers alike want these numbers to be higher. Patients can follow social media outlets to find these trials even when their personal doctors may not actively recommend them. As a result, researchers are hoping to get greater numbers to sign up in the future.

These trends and Tom Brady’s success show that social media is powerful, even in the field of medicine. Through it, patients, doctors and researchers can hope to connect even more efficiently in upcoming years than ever before. If this means thousands more participate in trials or register as kidney donors, then it is a good thing.