Organ donation can change and save lives, but often comes with a whole host of problems that reduces the chances of receiving a suitable organ. Modern technology, such as telepathology, is beginning to help reduce some of the problems with organ donation. Read here to learn how.
The wait time for an organ transplant is only one of the problems with organ donation. While it might be the biggest obstacle, there are still many more hurdles to jump.
In this article, we’ll talk about telecommunications, like telepathology and telecardiology, that are new breakthroughs in medical technology. We expect these telecommunication methods to make a huge impact on the organ donation process.
Problems With Organ Donation
There are about 114,408 people listed on the UNOS organ transplant list. Every day more people go on the list. On average, 20 people on that list die while waiting for a transplant.
These numbers are horrifying, especially if you’re the one waiting for a transplant. The state you’re in and the organ that you’re waiting on can impact your wait time.
Many people don’t realize how long it can take to get a transplant. The estimated waiting time for a kidney transplant is 5 to 10 years, depending on the state you live in. There are 17,000 people currently waiting on a liver transplant.
The reason that the waiting period for organ transplants is so long is that people don’t sign up to be donors. There are more than 138 million people listed as organ donors. The problem is that only about 3 people of every 1,000 are able to donate their organs when they die.
A person can die any number of ways, but to donate, their organs must be viable for the transplant. While the obvious damage to an organ (like a car accident) would make it non-viable, there are other reasons why an organ may not work. Disease is one of the biggest reasons.
If an organ isn’t healthy, it doesn’t make sense to put it in someone else’s body.
After a person dies, their organs are only viable for a short period of time. Most organs will last less than 24 hours after the donor’s death, while some, such as the heart and lungs, only last about 4 to 6 hours.
You can imagine why it’s important to make the decision on whether the organs are viable in a timely manner. Imagine it took two hours to determine if a lung was viable for transplant. Then it takes another two hours for you to get to the hospital and prepped for surgery. In the best case scenario, that only leaves another two hours for viability.
Now imagine that it only took about ten minutes to determine viability for that organ. Now, you might have time to fly that organ to a different hospital for someone that’s been waiting for years. This is especially helpful for those that live in rural communities.
This is where telepathology comes in.
What is Telepathology?
Telepathology is the process of using digital transmissions for medical diagnostics. Telepathology makes it possible to share biopsies and other medical images quickly and remotely.
To understand telepathology, you must first understand the role of a pathologist. A pathologist is a physician that studies the causes, nature, and effects of different diseases. They study tissues and body fluids to help them study and determine the disease affecting the body.
There are 3 main types of telepathology:
Static image-based systems – Images captured from a digital camera connect to a microscope. The image is then digitally transmitted.
Virtual slide systems – Specimen slides are scanned in high-resolution images. The image is then digitally transmitted.
Real-time systems – This one involves a robotically controlled microscope. The operator is able to adjust the microscope as if it were being done in person.
These systems allow doctors to get second opinions much faster. They also prevent an ill (or in this case deceased) patient from having to travel to a specialist.
What This Means for Organ Donation
Remember earlier when we went over the need for healthy organs to transplant? Pathologists are the ones that determine organ viability of persons who may have a disease. They perform a quick autopsy to determine an organ’s viability.
Telepathology allows for pathologists to perform an autopsy in a timely enough manner that the organs are still viable.
In addition to telepathology, there is telecardiology and teleradiology, with more fields emerging.
Let’s say that a heart attack is the suspected cause of death. We still need to confirm that. A local physician may use telecardiology to confirm the diagnosis in a faster manner. The physician might send in different cardiac studies, like an Echocardiogram (Echo), for a remote interpretation. A team of board-certified physicians then either confirm or change the diagnosis.
Telecommunications can result in interpretations in less than an hour.
This means faster diagnoses, more viable organs, and more lives saved.
How Can You Get Involved?
There are enough problems with organ donations. Waiting shouldn’t be one of them. Telecommunications are essential to lowering waiting periods and saving lives.
If you’re a physician or work with a physician, you should consider implementing telepathology or telecardiology in your practice. The number of physicians in this groundbreaking network is growing.
If you’re not a physician, you might want to check if you’re listed as an organ donor. It’s fast and easy to sign up. You can register online or at most DMV locations when you get your driver’s license. It’s a good idea to make sure that you inform your family of your decision so there are no surprises.