Despite a multi-year increase in the number of organs donated across the country, and five consecutive record-breaking years in the number of transplants performed, the crisis still remains — there simply are not enough organs to help those in desperate need of a transplant.

A delicate balance

Across the country, regional organ-procurement organizations and transplant programs are working on that very challenge. The delicate balance is multi-fold — ensuring that all potential donors are identified, offering as many families as possible an opportunity to save lives through donation, while also ensuring that all usable organs are transplanted into an appropriate recipient, all the while maintaining ethical standards and ensuring patient safety.

The Organ Donation and Transplantation Alliance, better known as “The Alliance,” is a support organization that seeks to provide the national community of practice with platforms for collaboration and innovation toward such challenges.

“We recognize that we are stronger as a community than if we continue to combat these challenges on our own,” said LeAnn Swanson, executive director of the Alliance. “The Alliance provides an opportunity for collaborative leadership to effectively solve a national crisis.”

New ideas

Noting that existing practice patterns may in fact limit the number of transplants performed, the Alliance created the National Critical Issues Forum — a biennial meeting that brings together key leaders in donation and transplantation to spur novel ideas and actions to increase organ donation, utilization and transplantation across the country. The forum convened this November in Pittsburgh.

During the forum, more than 100 key leaders and influencers in donation and transplantation gathered alongside the nation’s foremost authorities in medical and organizational innovation to identify gaps and challenges in the existing process. In unique “idea labs,” elements of the process were broken down to the nitty gritty, including behavioral economics, organizational practices, communication, data utilization, transportation logistics and organizational culture. As root problems were identified, impactful solutions began to take shape.

At the completion of the forum, attendees voted on the solutions that they deemed to be most impactful, feasible and innovative, and made commitments to one or more of the top solutions at their home organizations. The top solutions for each idea lab will now be compiled into a great ideas strategy guide, which will be made available for the national community of practice as a springboard for further discussion and future innovation.

“It’s a big endeavor and we know nothing can be solved overnight,” says Hedi Aguiar, senior director of programs for The Alliance, “but we are often guided by the wise words of Margaret Mead: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’”