Writing in The Atlantic, Daniela Lamas profiles OrganJet, a service that provides people waiting for an organ transplant with an on-demand private plane to transport them when an organ becomes available in another region.
Currently, organs are distributed based on 58 "donor service areas," grouped into 11 different regions. When an organ is available, donors are evaluated for a match in each tier. If no one is available in the first area, the search expands to the region and then to the nation. The current system is widely considered inefficient, leaving some areas—such those around New York City—with longer wait times and a higher mortality rate among waiting patients.
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Patients have the option of being listed in multiple regions. However, many are not aware this is possible, and the logistical challenges of getting across the country in time can be prohibitive.
Carnegie Mellon University professor Sridhar Taylor thought of the concept for OrganJet over dinner with a friend who studies the organ transplant system. The idea was to provide an easy way for patients to travel quickly to in response to a donor match.
OrganJet takes its inspiration from companies that provide "fractional" jet ownership. Costumers pay a fee, which allows them to access a jet on an as-needed basis and split the cost of ownership among a large group. It reduces the overall cost of flying private and uses resources more efficiently.
Can an on-demand jet service be affordable for patients?
Even so, OrganJet is not cheap. Taylor says the cost of a flight ranges from $8,000 to $25,000, making it too expensive for many in need of a new organ.
After consulting with a medical ethicist on the implications of his service, Taylor started a charitable foundation funded by OrganJet's profits that will pay to fly people unable to afford the service on their own.
But some still worry about the ethical implications of such a service.
David Axelrod, a transplant surgeon and researcher at Dartmouth University, says, "at the point where it’s restricted to a very small number of people who have the private means to do it, I fear it will exacerbate the inequalities."
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Taylor says that in the long term he hopes to address those concerns by convincing insurance companies to cover the service.
He has worked with Regina Herzlinger, a Harvard Business School professor who studies health care innovation, to have her students make the business case for covering OrganJet. The students found that savings on the cost of services like dialysis and the benefits of an earlier transplant could allow insurance companies to cover the costs of a flight without raising premiums.
Going to market
Taylor is taking that message to insurance companies. He recently met with Don Fischer, the chief medical officer at Highmark in Pennsylvania, to make his case. Fischer says Highmark is considering covering the service, adding it was "a very workable solution" and a "novel idea."
OrganJet has yet to be used, but Taylor is already working on tools to help patients determine where they should put themselves on a list to wait the shortest amount of time. "I'm a software guy. So I'm going to create a little app," he says (Lamas, The Atlantic, 10/29).
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