The Growth Channel

2 ways health systems are making organ waitlists move faster

by Sarah Musco and Priya Ramaiah

With over 115,000 patients on the waiting list for organ transplants in the U.S., the organ shortage has reached an all-time high—and some patients are taking the organ donor search into their own hands. In an effort to speed up the waiting process, one woman recently advertised her search on a local billboard. Hospitals, too, are embracing new strategies to expedite wait time for their transplant patients.

Some hospitals are looking to two previously unconsidered sources of supply: paired organ donation and organ donation voucher programs. These sources allow hospitals to decrease their patients' wait time to transplant, and have increased transplant volumes.

Keep reading to learn more about these two sources.

Paired donation offers options for patients with a willing, but incompatible, living donor

Often, friends and family of patients requiring a transplant are willing to donate their organs—but despite their willingness, their organs aren't always a perfect match. In a paired donation program, donors who are willing but aren't matches donate their organs to another patient for whom they are a better match. In exchange, the original intended transplant recipient gets a compatible donation from the other recipient's donor. This creates a so-called "donation chain" where pairs are carried forward, enabling transplants for patients who may not have otherwise found a living donor.

University of Michigan Medical Center uses paired donation to expedite donor waiting lists. By using software to generate possible donor-recipient pairs within their system, the organization has increased annual kidney transplant volumes performed at its center. Nearly 150 transplant centers across the country also participate in the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network's Kidney Paired Donation Pilot Program, which allows transplant cases to be matched across member facilities.

Voucher programs allow donors to help relatives who might require transplants in the future

In a transplant voucher program, donors can ‘gift' their organ in the form of a voucher for transplant priority. The concept launched at University of California Los Angeles with the inquiry of a grandfather who knew he would be too old to be a viable donor by the time his grandson with chronic kidney disease might need a transplant. He wondered if his grandson could be given priority for a kidney transplant in the future if he donated his kidney to a stranger in need now. Today, there are 30 transplant centers that have joined the voucher program as part of the National Kidney Registry, and over 21 kidneys have been donated in exchange for vouchers.

While there is no silver bullet for eliminating the organ backlog, embracing these creative tactics could enable hospitals to better meet transplant demand, minimize wait times, and grow transplant volumes.

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