NPR and Planet Money: Who Gets a Liver Transplant

NPRs Planet Money has a podcast this week titled ‘How Do You Decide Who Gets Lungs?’ It was an excellent examination of the current system for organ donation and recent changes to that system. An interesting point was made. Pre 2002 liver transplant lists were set by patients in ICU and time in ICU. Those in ICU were at the top and the longer you were in the higher your position on the list. Post 2002 it was changed to a more objective criteria including bilirubin, creatine levels among other clinical data. During the discussion physicians said that once the system changed the number of patients in ICU needing a liver transplant dropped significantly. They admitted that that may indicate gaming of the system. doh? In the new system it is harder to game it since the criteria is clinical and objective. 

Overall this was an excellent podcast on a very critical topic in healthcare. But I feel they missed a point. Transplantation is a huge business for both the institution and the HCP. There is an economic incentive to get the organ in order to do a transplant. I am in no way saying institutions or HCP position economics over patient care. What I am saying is that Planet Money may have missed another point to examine, what are the economics of transplants? But that is not as dramatic as life and death. 

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