US to overhaul organ transplant system: here's what that means

organ transplant
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It's a network people around the country rely on for life-saving care -- and it's about to get a complete overhaul.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a modernization initiative on Wednesday to overhaul the country's organ transplant system.

The department said the effort includes several actions that focus on strengthening accountability and transparency in the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. It also calls for Congress to make specific reforms in the National Organ Transplant Act.

Carole Johnson, administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), said oversight of the organ transplant network is a "top priority."

"Every day, patients and families across the United States rely on the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network to save the lives of their loved ones who experience organ failure," Johnson said in a statement. "That is why we are taking action to both bring greater transparency to the system and to reform and modernize the [network]. The individuals and families that depend on this life-saving work deserve no less."

The initiative includes a new data dashboard on the Organ Donation and Transplantation website to share information on organ donors, organ procurement, transplant waitlists and transplant recipients. Patients, families, clinicians, researchers, and others can use this data to inform decision-making as well as process improvements, the health department said.

The overhaul also includes a plan to strengthen accountability, equity and performance in the organ donation and transplantation system -- specifically focusing on five key areas: technology; data transparency; governance; operations; and quality improvement and innovation.

According to the HRSA, more than 100,000 individuals and their families are currently awaiting organ transplants.

"While modernization work is complex, the integrity of the organ matching process is paramount and cannot be disrupted," the health department said. "HRSA intends to engage with a wide and diverse group of stakeholders early and often to ensure a human-centered design approach that reflects pressing areas of need and ensuring experiences by system users like patients are addressed first."

The department noted that the president's budget proposal for 2024 would more than double investments in organ procurement and transplantation for a total of $67 million. The budget also requests statutory changes to the National Organ Transplant Act to remove decades-old rules on appropriations and contracts in order to increase competition.

"Ensuring robust competition in every industry is a key priority of the Biden-Harris Administration and will help meet the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network Modernization Initiative's goals of promoting innovation and the best quality of service for patients," the health department said.

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