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6 Jan 2017

How big data will help save lives this year

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January 6, 2017 Category: Health Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO:  UNOS creates a unique collaboration between hundreds of transplant, organ procurement professionals and thousands of volunteers, to help make life-saving organ transplants possible each day.


Each day, 144 new names are added to the national organ transplant waiting list. That’s about one person every 10 minutes. At any given moment, 120,000 people are waiting for a new organ. Tragically, due to a donor shortage, an average of 22 people die each day waiting for that organ to arrive.

The process for matching donors with recipients is extremely complex. The doctors involved with performing organ transplants need to make fast, critical decisions during an incredibly delicate situation – every minute counts and there is no room for error. So how do doctors ensure the right decisions are made for every patient? Thankfully they can rely on the information provided by the nation’s organ transplant system.

On average, a doctor has just one hour to decide if the organ from a potential donor can be utilized for transplant. Once that decision is made, and an organ is extracted, the doctor typically has anywhere from 4 hours to 48 hours to perform the transplant. Clearly, the speed of information availability is critical to the process.

The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) is the private, non-profit organization that manages the nation’s organ transplant system under contract with the federal government. In doing so, UNOS brings together hundreds of transplant and organ procurement professionals and thousands of volunteers. This unique collaboration helps make life-saving organ transplants possible each day. The UNOS system serves as the model for transplant systems around the world.

With the help of cutting-edge big data integration software from a company called Talend, UNOS is helping health care professionals look into the success statistics of organs they previously declined, helping to improve their process and selection criteria for future patients.

“Data is key to the success of modern businesses, and organ transplants are no different, although the stakes are quite literally a matter of life and death,” says Alex Tulchinsky, chief technology officer with UNOS. “With Talend, we are able to ingest and integrate data from various sources more easily, and reduce our processing time from 18 hours to just three or four hours. This, in turn, helps UNOS deliver more timely data related to previous organ offers, which enable the transplant community to review recent organ acceptance decisions and outcomes.”

To improve the success rate of organ transplants, hospitals and doctors accessing the UNOS system can see all transplants they’ve performed over the last three months. This historical view enables them to assess the outcome of organs they did not accept and analyze why they turned them down, how the organs may have been successfully used by other centers, and whether or not they should modify their selection criteria in the future as a result.

Today, the UNOS model is being used for transplant systems around the world. By turning to solutions like Talend, UNOS is helping doctors and transplant centers nationwide make more timely, informed decisions, which may translate into additional saved lives. Almost 31,000 transplants were performed last year in the United States and each day more than 85 people will be given a second chance at life.

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