Organ Donor Program Needs Overhaul, Experts Say

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HealthDay News

MONDAY, June 1, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Many state policies meant to increase organ donations and transplant rates have had almost no impact, new research finds.

The shortage of organs available for transplant is a major public health problem in the United States, according to study author Erika Martin, of the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy at the University at Albany, State University of New York, and her colleagues. Between 1988 and 2010, the number of states with at least one of six major measures designed to boost the organ supply increased from seven to 50, the team reported.

But their review of national data revealed that five of these approaches have not increased donation rates or numbers of transplants. These policies include first-person consent laws, donor registries, public education, paid leave and tax incentives.

The study offers more proof that the current organ donation and transplant system in the United States needs a major overhaul, said Dr. Sally Satel, of Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn. Satel's team wrote an editorial accompanying the study, which was published online June 1 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

In the study, only revenue policies -- where people can contribute to a state fund to promote organ donation -- have made a difference. This type of measure was associated with a 5.3 percent increase in the number of transplants, which works out to an average of 15 additional transplants per state a year.

Revenue policies were also associated with a nearly 5 percent increase in the number of deceased donors per capita and an 8 percent increase in the number of transplants of organs from deceased donors. This works out to an additional 6.5 deceased donors and eight transplants from deceased donors per state a year, the study found.

"However, state-by-state variation in how these funds are used is large, limiting the generalizability of this finding. These findings suggest that new policy designs may be needed to increase donation rates," Martin and colleagues concluded.

In their editorial, Satel and colleagues said they believe it's time for "disruptive innovation."

"By this concept, we mean compensating donors, not simply seeking to soften the financial ramification of donation. It is time to test incentives, to reward people who are willing to save the life of a stranger through donation," they suggested.

SOURCE: JAMA Internal Medicine, news release, June 1, 2015

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