Nonprofit Reinvents the House Call with Social Media

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February 27, 2012; Source: Mashable

On the sea and in remote makeshift clinics, Floating Doctors has no time to write grants or hold fundraisers, but the extremely low cost usage of Twitter, YouTube and Facebook is helping them access supplies, expertise and funds to save lives in coastal areas of the Caribbean and Central America. Using truncated tweets, effective posts and compelling videos, this portable nonprofit clinic is able to link fans of their work throughout the world to those in need of medical care who are underserved (or not served at all) by traditional models of medicine. The recent influx of 3G networks in Central America and the exploding popularity of Twitter and Facebook have enabled Floating Doctors to raise money and awareness in the virtual global community in ways not possible even a few years ago.

Sky LaBrot, executive director of operations and head tweeter for the mobile corps of seasoned physicians and volunteers, knows saving lives is their mission but that new media can steward their message: “It’s really hard to tell the story, but telling the story is what gets people to reach into their pocket to donate, which allows us to do what we do,” she says of the nonprofit founded and headed by her brother, Dr. Benjamin LaBrot.

The group’s main focus is treating tropical diseases in Haiti, Panama and Costa Rica, but reaching out to followers on Twitter usually attracts a remote specialist to collaborate for a cure when they are stumped. But ubiquitous exposure and the money and expertise it yields does not mean sacrificing time-honored ethical principles or confidentiality: “These are real people with real diseases. They are a part of families with people who love them. I would never want my picture taken and put up on the Internet,” LaBrot notes.

Floating Doctors also reaches out to other nonprofits with similar missions, and is looking into a partnership with the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative to boost supply sources and competencies.

Floating Doctors ultimately hopes to alert local communities of their itineraries so that those in need of treatment will know when they are in the area: “The first time we went to Haiti, there were just normal phone calls. But a couple months after we left, people starting requesting us on Facebook,” Sky LaBrot says.–Louis Altman