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Improved procurement could more than double availability of life-saving transplant organs

BOSTON, MA Last year, fewer than 6,200 people in the United States donated organs though more than 80,000 waited for organ transplantations. Each day, an average of 17 people die while waiting for a transplant.

Even though the need for transplantable organs far outweighs the supply, the number of organs donated could be more than doubled--saving thousands of lives every year--if the procurement process were improved. These findings by researchers from Harvard Medical School, Boston University, and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement appear in the summer issue of Health Care Financing Review published this week.

Although millions of people across the country are registered donors, only two percent of them annually suffer brain death and meet the other medical requirements for being a cadaveric donor. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) suggests that the number of actual donors may be further limited by organ procurement organizations (OPOs) that do not utilize the most efficient practices.

"We needed to know if we have a supply of potential donors who can meet the demand for organs," said Edward Guadagnoli, first author on the study and an associate professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School. "We didn't know until we used a statistical model to estimate that number." The researchers determined that the number is about 17,000 potential donors each year.

OPOs coordinate the organ donation process and match potential donors to recipients. They also deal directly with the potential donor's family to get consent for donation. Organ donation usually comes at a difficult time for families, and the way an OPO addresses the situation can mean the difference between saving a life through transplantation and losing a potential donor. Family resistance to organ donation is the primary reason that potential donors do not donate.

According to the study, OPOs have an efficiency rate of between 20 and 8
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Contact: John Lacey
public_affairs@hms.harvard.edu
617-432-0442
Harvard Medical School
25-Sep-2003


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