Making Organ Donations More Available

Improving Consent Process May Increase Organs for Transplants

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 13, 2003 - With the demand for organ transplants greatly outpacing the supply, many people are in desperate search for an answer that could save thousands of lives.

Authors of a new study appearing in the latest New England Journal of Medicine suggest that improving the consent process can drastically increase the number of available organs.

The study shows that as of last month, more than 82,000 patients were waiting for a solid-organ transplant. Many times, a person's life depends on finding a proper match. Sometimes, people die waiting.

For this study, the researchers looked at the makeup of a national pool of brain-dead potential organ donors during a three-year period in order to devise a way to increase the conversion rate of potential organ donors to actual organ donors. Researchers looked at characteristics of the potential donors, the processes of referral to organ-procurement organizations and of requesting donations, and the types of hospitals where organ donations occur.

In all, the researchers identified 18,500 brain-dead, potential organ donors during the course of the study. Only 42% of the potential donors became actual donors.

Consent was not obtained in 39% of the cases and families were not asked for organ donations 16% of the time. Consent was obtained from only half of the families that were asked to donate. Without consent the organ donation cannot be performed.

Organ Donor Consent Is the Key

Since low consent rates were the biggest obstacle in getting more available organs, researchers say this is the area that holds the most promise. The organ-procurement community needs to understand how and why a patient's age and ethnic background, as well as how he or she died, can influence families' willingness to donate a patient's organs, say researchers.

During the study, bigger hospitals (150 beds and up) were more likely to have potential and actual donors than smaller hospitals -- with 19% of all of the hospitals accounting for 80% of all potential donors. For this reason, researchers say that the bulk of resources promoting organ consent should be targeted in larger hospitals that are already recovering organs.

Source: The New England Journal of Medicine, August 2003.

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