Program testing EHR role in speeding organ donation process

The United Network for Organ Sharing is working with software vendors Cerner and Statline to automate manual processes surrounding organ donations.

The United Network for Organ Sharing is working with software vendors Cerner and Statline to automate manual processes surrounding organ donations.

The initiative aims to improve the process for notifying hospitals about potential organ donors, with the hopes of reducing the time it takes to get an organ to needy patients.

Time is of the essence, with more than 116,000 patients waiting for transplants. At the other end of the equation, 58 organ procurement organizations and 5,500 hospitals aim to coordinate efforts to meet their needs, says David Zanitsch, senior philanthropy officer at the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).

The proof-of-concept program is funded in part with a $75,000 grant from The Smithfield Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Smithfield Foods, to build software that will integrate with electronic health record systems of participating hospitals.

“We are a not-for-profit organization, and Smithfield helped us fund this pilot,” says Alex Tulchinsky, chief technology officer at UNOS. “We didn’t want to use dollars from other hospitals who participate. This allows hospitals to focus on care and minimizes manual referring to organ procurement organizations. The pilot program is to prove the need for these services and over time more hospitals and electronic health record vendors will join.”

Cerner’s role in the program is to give extracts of patient records to organ procurement organizations to determine if there is a suitable donor available.

Statline offers a range of services that include a donor registry, communication center, quality assurance and consulting services, and screening to determine donor suitability.

“Once developed, this technology will mean more organs recovered and transplanted, higher data quality and information security, and time and dollars saved,” says Brian Shepard, CEO at UNOS. “Ultimately, it will mean more lives saved.”

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The program, called the Timely Donor Referral, started about 18 months ago with UNOS talking to organ procurement organizations, and work started in early 2018 to develop standard processes, says Tulchinsky.

United Network for Organ Sharing, organ procurement organizations and 150 hospitals are developing technology using Health Level 7 protocols to replace manual processes with an electronic interface into hospitals’ electronic health record systems.

Patients needing a transplant are put on a waiting list, and UNOS has developed a set of algorithms to determine which patient should go to the top if a suitable donor match comes in.

UNOS is developing the technology to provide secure EHR data hosting and communications through an existing data sharing hub used by organ procurement organizations and transplant centers, called UNet, which facilitates donor matches and then transplantation.

“We’re building bridges between hospitals with a potential donor and a second bridge to organ procurement organizations or transplant centers,” Tulchinsky says.

When a transplant nurse identifies a potential organ donation, a button in the Cerner EHR is pressed which generates a report to the organ procurement organization and to Statline, which uses EHR data to screen the organ to determine its viability. Then, the organ procurement organization takes a closer look at the organ before approving its use.

Tulchinsky acknowledges the importance of the test program to prove it will work so that other providers will adopt it and more lives will be saved. “This will lead to more learning of how to increase organ availability, but we have to prove it.”

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