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Thoughts, comments, news, and reflections about healthcare IT from Microsoft's worldwide health senior director Bill Crounse, MD, on how information technology can improve healthcare delivery and services around the world.

Computer Software Matches Donors, Saves Lives

Computer Software Matches Donors, Saves Lives

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Last week I had the pleasure of visiting my alma mater, The Medical College of Ohio.  It doesn't go by that name anymore. Today, due to a recent merger with the University of Toledo, it is known as the UT College of Medicine.

I was invited to the university to receive the medical college's "distinguished alumni award".  The award was presented to me Friday evening during the school's homecoming gala by Dr. Jeffrey Gold, provost and executive vice president, and Dr. Lloyd Jacobs, president of the University of Toledo.  The recognition was a great honor for me, although it was a bit like getting a lifetime achievement award that is hopefully being received long before the job is done.

While at the university I also delivered a couple of lectures at the health sciences campus.  It was terrific to be in the company of students, medical residents, and faculty.  We had stimulating discussions about advancements in information technology and how all of this will impact medical education and the future practice of medicine.

SOFTWARE SAVING LIVES

imageI was also fortunate to have a private meeting with Dr. Michael Rees (seen here lifted up by his grateful patients) professor of urology at UT College of Medicine.  Dr. Rees is a kidney transplant surgeon who has developed software that helps match "paired living donors".  As Dr. Rees explained, it costs about $80,000 a year to provide life sustaining dialysis to a patient with renal failure.  A kidney transplant costs about $100,000, if an organ is available.  A donated kidney that comes from a cadaver will last about 8 years.  A kidney that is provided by a living donor will last about twice that long.  Clearly, kidney transplants save money, and receiving one from a living donor is the better option.  However, making that option available is often a challenge.paired kidney donation

For instance, a wife (Donor 1) may be willing to donate a kidney to her husband (Recipient 1), but because of antibodies, blood type or other issues, the kidney isn't a good match.  What then?  Perhaps somewhere else in the country there is a husband (Donor 2) who is willing to donate to his wife (Recipient 2) but again, there isn't a good match.  But what if Donor 1 could donate to Recipient 2, and Donor 2 turned out to be a good match for Recipient 1?  Two families would benefit.  Furthermore, Dr. Rees says some people are willing to give up a kidney to help a complete stranger, provided that someone in the stranger's family is willing to "pay forward" with a donation of their own.

image The computer program developed by Dr. Rees, with assistance from his computer scientist father, factors in a number of variables such as the donor and potential recipient's age, how long the recipient has been waiting for a transplant, the physical location of donor and patient, blood types, antibodies and other factors to "optimize" all possible combinations for this life-giving transaction.  The software program is so complex that 600 matched pairs will bring down most ordinary computers, necessitating more powerful high-performance computing for full optimization. 

Dr. Rees is hoping to identify and process 400 living donors and patients who would be willing to participate in his paired donor program.  The program currently has 134 pairs.  At that level of participation, a logarithmic explosion in matched pairs becomes apparent, and a kind of daisy chain of life-giving transplantations could happen.  The program has already helped many people and has been featured on national news programs.  Dr. Rees gave one example of a recent living kidney donor who, with the help of the computer matching program, set off a daisy chain of transplants that benefitted 10 families.

WHAT YOimageU CAN DO

To continue his work, Dr. Rees needs funding.  He has already completed version 2.0 of his software.  Now, he needs financial support to recruit and process more paired donors in order to reach that magical number of 400.   If you happen to be a tech millionaire or billionaire this would be a very worthy cause for your philanthropy.  Or perhaps we can raise what is needed virally if bloggers simply unite across the blogosphere and spread the word (please link to this post).

Dr. Rees needs to raise $1.3 million ($650,000 per year for 2 years).  His Alliance for Paired Donation is a 501c3 organization, so any donations would be tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.

If you are serious and want to learn more, contact me by using the E-mail button at the top of this Blog and I will put you in touch with Dr. Rees.  Your donation will save lives!

Bill Crounse, MD  Senior Director, Worldwide Health     Microsoft Corporation

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  • A very unique donor program and a neat software application, specific for the use. Would it be possible to donate from India? Not that i am a tech millionaire or otherwise, but it is for a noble cause.

    Regards

    Manish

  • Manish,

    Thanks for writing.  If you wish to contact Dr. Rees, please send your e-mail address to me using the "e-mail" contact button at the top of the screen.  I will forward your message on to Dr. Rees.

    Bill Crounse, MD

  • That is a very interesting topic. Actually Gartner analysts predict that, by 2009, healthcare investments in IT will increase by more than 50 percent, which could enable clinicians to reduce the level of preventable deaths by 50 percent by 2013. Of course, nowadays most healthcare organizations have already invested in IT outsourcing, for anything from Telco and Wireless, to Application Data Development (i.e. LIMS, SOA), or even Business Process Management.

    We’ve put together a detailed white paper on these subjects: http://www.outsourcing-factory.com/en/stay-informed/white-papers/outsourcing-healthcare.html . What is your experience with IT outsourcing in healthcare? Are these figures close to your personal experience or do you think there are certain issues we’ve missed covering? I strongly appreciate your professional opinions.

  • Thanks for writing.  I agree that IT outsoucing often makes sense for healthcare organizations.  Afterall, IT is not the healthcare organization's primary expertise.  On the other hand, I have seen lots of hospitals that outsourced IT only to bring it in-house again a few years later in order to gain greater control.  I'll leave it to my readers to judge your paper.  Thanks again for sharing your comment.

    Bill Crounse, MD

  • Manish,

    Thank you for your interest in the Alliance for Paired Donation.  You can certainly donate from India.  Simply go to the Alliance for Paired Donation Website www.paireddonation.org where you will find a method to securely donate via the internet.  Interesting that you write from India.  We recently met with representatives of the transplant community in India who are interested in starting a kidney paired donation program there.  The Alliance for Paired Donation has offered to give India our web-based software for free to help kick-start such a program.  You can contact me with any other questions you might have by writing me at science@paireddonation.org.

    I would be remiss if I didn't also thank Dr. Counse for his support of our kidney paired donation program.  Thank you so much!  

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  • "logarithmic explosion"? Do you mean exponential explosion? A "logarithmic explosion" would be something that tapers off very quickly.

  • Good catch, Wesley.  Fortunately, I suspect most people understood what I was trying to say.

    Bill Crounse, MD

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