Facebook rolls out blood donations feature in 5 U.S. cities

Facebook is expanding a feature already available in four countries to the U.S. market to help coordinate blood donations, the company announced Wednesday.

In a move to use its platform for public health efforts, the blood donations tool will enable hospitals, healthcare providers, blood banks and the Red Cross to request blood donations when there are limited amounts in supply for patients, Facebook said.

The tool will alert users in five select cities when there is a blood donation shortage.

Facebook is launching the new tool in Chicago, New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Facebook says it will roll out nationwide over the coming months.

Initial healthcare partners include America’s Blood Centers, the American Red Cross, Inova Health System, the New York Blood Center, the Rock River Valley Blood Center, the Stanford Blood Center, Versiti and Vitalant.

“This campaign comes at exactly the right time, as busy summer schedules make it extremely challenging to sign up sufficient blood donors. And Facebook’s new blood donation feature makes it even easier to make a lifesaving donation," Cliff Numark, senior vice president at the American Red Cross, said in a statement.

In a blog post, Hema Budaraju, product director of health at Facebook, said someone in the U.S. needs blood every two seconds, and one donation can potentially save three lives. "However, blood banks in the U.S. are seeing a decline in blood donors," Budaraju said.

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The tool will help raise awareness and make it easier for people to find opportunities to donate, she said.

Each year, an estimated 6.8 million people in the U.S. donate blood, according to the American Red Cross.

"Facebook’s rollout of its blood donation network is less of a foray into healthcare than it is a demonstration of social responsibility," Michael Abrams, managing partner and co-founder of consulting firm Numerof & Associates, told FierceHealthcare.

"It’s a public health service that could have important benefits, by saving lives that might otherwise have been lost," said Abrams. "Facebook's platform will clearly make it easier for people who want to contribute to the public good at a time and a place that works best for them and for providers that need that contribution."

There is the potential for Facebook to use its platform for other public health campaigns, such as "crowdsourcing" kidney donations from living donors, Abrams said.

"As we continue to move into the direction of personalized medicine and at a time when almost every individual has their own DNA profile, the possibilities inherent in a platform like this which enables institutions to reach out to the broader population, perhaps even based on their DNA profile, that is quite exciting."

The tech giant initially rolled out the feature in India in 2017. Facebook's blood donation tool has since expanded to Pakistan, Bangladesh and Brazil. More than 35 million Facebook users have signed up, according to the company.

Blood donation centers in India and Brazil found that 20% of people said Facebook influenced their decision to donate blood, according to in-person surveys conducted at partner blood banks, the company said.

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“Tens of thousands of blood donors are needed each day across the US to transform the lives of patients requiring blood transfusions,” Mitzy Edgecomb, vice president of marketing and communications at Vitalant, said in a statement. “Summer and winter are notoriously difficult times for collecting enough blood donations, but the need does not stop and can even rise due to increased travel, activity, adverse weather events and cold and flu season among other factors.”

Facebook has tackled other social responsibility and public health efforts as well. In March, the tech giant announced it was working to tackle vaccine misinformation on its platform by reducing the distribution of groups and pages that spread anti-vax content and rejecting ads that include misinformation about vaccines.

The launch of the blood donations feature comes at a time when the social media company is working to earn back the public's trust and confidence as it faces charges about the misuse of users' data, Abrams said.

Facebook and other tech giants are facing a heightened level of scrutiny in Washington. Facebook is working to settle a Federal Trade Commission investigation into its handling of user data.

The company has faced other privacy scandals, from collecting highly sensitive personal data like menstruation cycles from third-party apps even if the app user had no Facebook account to exposing users' sensitive health information uploaded into private online groups.