Solving the Problem of Organ Donation

By ThinkReliability Staff

6,570 Americans die every year waiting for a donor organ.  Says Johns Hopkins surgeon Dr. Andrew Cameron, “There just aren’t enough organ donors to go around.  That’s not a medical problem.  That’s a social problem.”  Though 95% of people support organ donation, only 40% are registered organ donors.  For the over 123,000 people on the waiting list, there just aren’t enough donor organs to go around.

This issue can be addressed within a Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis.  The first step is to capture the “what”, “when”, and “where of the incident, as well as the impact to the goals.  In this case, the problem is lack of donor organs available, causing patient deaths.  Though the problem exists everywhere, the focus of this blog will be on ongoing organ shortage in the United States.  Important differences in the United States related to organ donation are that only 40% of Americans are registered organ donors (despite widespread public support), and that there is no central registry of organ donors within the United States.  (Organ registries are typically state-run.)

The large number of deaths resulting from inadequate donor organs is an impact to the patient safety goal.  The delay in receipt of organs can be considered both an impact to the patient services and schedule/operations goal.  The lack of available organs can be considered an impact to the property goal.

To develop the cause-and-effect relationships that led to the impacted goals, we ask “why” questions.  In this case, the patient deaths result from the need for donor organs due to disease or injury, and the delay in receipt of organs.  The delay in receipt of organs is due to a lack of available organs.  Millions of Americans die every year, and while not all organs are acceptable for transplant, more than one organ can often be used from donors, resulting in multiple lives saved from each donor.

In an interesting cause-and-effect result, increased traffic safety has resulted in fewer fatal traffic accidents of young, healthy people, which has led to a decrease in available donor organs.  Of course there is no effort to try and increase organ donation by stopping the decrease of deaths of young people.

The shortage of donors from people who are eligible (upon death or brain death) result from not signing up for the organ donation registry and/or from a family not choosing to donate organs.  There are multiple reasons suggested for people not choosing to register or donate organs.  To solve the problem, companies are working on increasing the number of donors.  Dr. Cameron coordinated with Facebook to allow users to register as organ donors and saw the number of organ donors go up “22 fold”.  Says Dr. Cameron, “That’s proof that we can move the needle.”  The startup Organize is “building a portfolio of technology that makes it easier for people to demonstrate their desire to be an organ donor.”  The company hopes that it will improve organ donation to the point that it puts itself out of business in five years.

To view the overview of the organ donation problem and solutions, click on “Download PDF” above.  As discussed in a previous blog, work is also being done to increase the number of organs that are acceptable for donation (in this case with kidneys).