How To Untangle The Cluster In The Organ Transplant Process

No organ offer is the same and no transplant is the same. Instead of a linear progress from progression to procurement to transplant, the process crisscrosses, loops around, backtracks, and takes unexpected turns. If an artist were to draw the transplant process from beginning to end, it would resemble a 2 year old’s family portrait...basically, a cluster.

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Unfortunately, real lives depend on this very convoluted process, and the communication that happens from organ offer to final transplantation can leave surgeons, their teams, and donor teams frustrated, confused, and stressed.

To add insult to injury, transplant teams are dealing with more than one cluster at a time. They often field multiple organ offers for multiple patients or even multiple organ offers for just one patient all at once. 

These communication clusters result in distractions that affect the transplant team’s work life balance and their focus in the operating room. In fact, in the operating room, over 80% of all distractions are non-operative (for instance, a ringing telephone). These distractions are linked to complications and post-operative bleeding.

To untangle the cluster, surgeons and transplant teams need tools to standardize their communication and enable efficient workflows. 

How the communication cluster makes the organ transplant process frustrating

The following scenario is all too common:

It started out like every other transplant—a notification about a new organ offer. 

For three hours (from midnight to 3 a.m.), she was on the phone trying to track down all the different data she needed for that organ. She sent texts, hopped on phone calls with the donor team, and finally had to get on a call with the offsite transplant coordinator from a contracted call center to get all of the latest information on the patient and donor. 

She becomes the middle person in the process and ends up taking over tasks that are outside of her purview such as getting information to the right people, receiving redundant notifications and information, and communicating back and forth with both the donor team and her transplant team.

After trying to catch a couple of hours of sleep it was 'go-time.' She woke up to a number of texts asking questions about the recipient. She quickly sorts through the texts trying to determine what information was associated with what patient as there were multiple cases and they had back-ups for each. 

When she called to confirm OR, she was told the procurement got pushed back because other procurement teams were delayed. This pushed everything back for the recipient OR time and the surgeon had to rearrange her clinic appointments later that afternoon. She finally calls the procurement team who tells her that the procurement has started and that cross-clamp is estimated to happen in 15 minutes. They told the surgeon they had notified her transplant coordinator, but this is news to her. 

She rushes to the hospital to start admission and prep on recipient. Finally, she receives notification from the transplant coordinator that the procurement team is on their way back to the hospital. It is a short flight but without real-time tracking of the flights and organ its difficult to know exactly when they will show up at the hospital. While the original OR time was 7 am, it’s now 10am and they are still waiting. 

Sound familiar?

Keep in mind that the surgeon is also fielding organ offers for other patients or multiple offers for the same patient. This process is being repeated multiple times a day, sometimes all at once.

Because of inefficient communication processes, the surgeon becomes the center of the cluster and has to do tasks that he or she shouldn’t have to do. This causes frustration, and prevents them from fully focusing on the task at hand.

So how do we untangle the cluster and reduce frustration?

There are a number of things that transplant teams can do to streamline data flow, communication, and reduce distractions in the transplant process. 

1. Reduce the need for the back and forth

In the scenario above, the information the transplant surgeon needed wasn’t communicated well over text and phone calls. He needed real-time communication with the donor coordinator - and the ability to share files and images - to find out if the organ was a good fit for his patient.

A communication system designed for transplant can reduce the number of steps needed to get vital data and messages back and forth. Teams can cut back the time needed for the entire organ offer process so the right patient gets matched with the right organ faster.

2. Create proactive communication plans

Surgeons need a way to standardize communication. Senders, such as OPOs, can then access these pre-planned communication templates to see the exact information surgeons need to support their decision-making process. 

This means surgeons can get the data they need, such as biopsies and cross matches, without having to track down the right person or obtain pieces of missing information. Teams need to prepare ahead by creating proactive communication plans to streamline the process. This used to be easy, but as mentioned above allocation rules are changing. So how do we communicate these plans and preferences to others?

There are technology solutions available which will allow you to create communication preferences and organ offer snapshots and share this information with others. By making these preference cards available, teams that haven’t worked together before can easily share and access their communication plans and work like they’ve known each other for years. 

3. Implement a unified communication platform

Typically, transplant decisions happen through many forms of communication including text messaging, phone calls and emails. While each medium has their strong point, scattered communication often result in scattered data and lost context (not to mention slowing down the process and context switching). 

It is critical for transplant professionals to start thinking about moving all of their communications into a unified system that will allow them to organize communication effectively. In one system, teams should be able to share pictures, transfer reports, store important information, and do everything else that is critical to the transplant process. 

As a result, team members will stay updated with real time information, including clinical data and time changes. This method of closed-loop communication keeps transplant teams on the same page during organ procurement and ensures they can smoothly transition into the OR.

4. Provide quick access to reliable data

Given their extensive experience, surgeons often have a gut feeling about organ decisions, but, understandably, they usually want more data to back up their decisions.

Data analytics tools can be implemented to enable surgeons to see, at a glance, organ data and patient preferences. These outcome-driven insights can help validate a surgeon’s instinct and enable them to make more aggressive (and timely) decisions. This also gives them the reassurance that they have all the data they need to make the right decision. This use of technology can bolster their decisions and help them make the right choice.

In addition, organ transplant statistics can help a patient make their decision because artificial intelligence (AI) can help surgeons know what the patient’s chances are of receiving another organ offer within a specific time period and what the patient’s predicted health will be at that point. By giving them solid data that paints a complete picture, patients and surgeons can better evaluate the opportunity cost of rejecting or accepting an organ.

What if?

There’s a proven void when it comes to transplant communication tools. We want to start asking “what if?”

  • What if technology could help standardize communication between teams?
  • What if there was a way to start using AI to help predict the success of a transplant?
  • What if a simple tool could save surgeons hours of time (and help them get more sleep)?

We’ve tracked the data, listened to top surgeons, and innovated a solution that can adapt to each surgeon’s communication preferences. This solution has been built for one main purpose—to help reduce distractions and improve communication for transplant teams.

When distractions are out of the picture, transplant surgeons and their teams can focus on what matters most—healthier patients, better work-life balance and exceptional quality metrics.

Wondering why your transplant center experiences communication breakdowns that lead to costly delays? Read “Why Transplant Centers Get Stuck in a Communication Cluster (And How to Fix It).”

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