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New organ donation program designed to save more time, more lives

Intermountain Healthcare's St. George Regional Hospital in St. George is pictured on April 9. A new system used by Intermountain Healthcare and Donor Connect is designed to connect organ donors with people waiting for organs even more seamlessly through technology.

Intermountain Healthcare's St. George Regional Hospital in St. George is pictured on April 9. A new system used by Intermountain Healthcare and Donor Connect is designed to connect organ donors with people waiting for organs even more seamlessly through technology. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

MURRAY — A new system used by Intermountain Healthcare and Utah-based DonorConnect aims to connect organ donors with people waiting for organs even more seamlessly, through technology.

What until recently was a phone call that took nurses away from a patient is now a few clicks, using a shared interface to send patient information already entered into Intermountain's system with DonorConnect, a nonprofit that facilitates organ donations throughout the Intermountain West.

The new program, called iReferral, is expected to lead to more organ donations as the process moves more quickly.

Taylor Albrecht, a nurse with Intermountain Healthcare Transplant Program, said this will save them about 15-20 minutes for each organ donation referral, and allows nurses to be at bedsides instead of trying to call DonorConnect and communicate information.

"We already have most of the information on this patient documented in our electronic medical record. And so, with a few clicks, we're able to send a referral of this patient to donor connect," Albrecht said.

This allows the nurses to have critical time at a patient's bedside.

Brian Beck with DonorConnect said the time saved is also important for them. They evaluate organ donors to determine if there is potential and then speak to the family of the donor. If they are moving forward with a donation, they need to help recipients get to transplant centers and ready for operation quickly.

"Time is definitely of the essence," Beck said. "A lot of moving parts that need to get in motion."

Beck said this system also allows DonorConnect to get all of the necessary information at once, which helps them determine more quickly if there is the possibility of saving a life with an organ donation in each circumstance. He said this new system is significantly better.

A large team has been working on the collaboration with Intermountain for a few years, Beck said. They began using the system in the first intensive care unit on Feb. 22, and it will soon be in each ICU in Intermountain's system.

Ultimately, the iReferral shared interface will be used for both organ and tissue donations throughout the entire Intermountain Healthcare system, and Beck said they are also looking at setting up similar collaborations with other hospital systems.

Albrecht said he helped with the utilization and training for nurses at the Shock Trauma ICU in Murray where the program went live in February and said it takes a little bit of practice, but once it is learned, the system makes a huge difference.

He said when they recognize clinical triggers that there may be a possibility for an organ donation, it is simple to send the referral to DonorConnect.

Although the new program isn't used directly by patients and their families, Albrecht said they benefit from the improvement because nurses are spending less time away from a patient's bedside. He said the situation typically comes up in a rough moment, and the new system allows for organ donation to be a part of the family's discussion sooner so it does not feel rushed. Albrecht also said it optimizes the opportunity for donations, which means saving lives.

"It allows (families) to be able to get a lot of peace from that, knowing that they're able to save as many lives possible from a situation that was unfortunate for them," Albrecht said.

He said seeing both sides of successful organ transplants as a nurse in an intensive care unit also makes a difference for the nurses and hospital staff.

"When it comes to these transplants, you're able to see immediate results ... you can just see them immediately just start getting better. And it really helps bring a lot of that in perspective and it really helps raise morale," Albrecht said.

DonorConnect has helped connect 46 organ donors with recipients within the Intermountain Healthcare system so far this year. Those 46 donors identified by Intermountain Healthcare helped around 170 recipients.

Beck said DonorConnect evaluates between 10 and 30 potential organ donors to identify one organ donor, so the number of referrals DonorConnect receives is much higher. Since February they have received about 300 referrals, and once the system is being used throughout Intermountain's system they anticipate between 5,000 and 6,000 referrals each year.

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Emily Ashcraft joined KSL.com as a reporter in 2021. She covers courts and legal affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.

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