Author Insights: Physicians More Likely Than the Public to Register as Organ Donors

Alvin Ho-ting Li, BHSc, of Western University in Ontario, Canada, and colleagues, found that physicians are more likely to register as organ donors than the general public. Image: Western University

Alvin Ho-ting Li, BHSc, of Western University in Ontario, Canada, and colleagues, found that physicians are more likely to register as organ donors than the general public. Image: Western University

Physicians are almost 50% more likely to register as an organ donor than other citizens, suggests a Canadian study published today in JAMA. The findings indicate that physicians may have a higher level of confidence than the public in being an organ donor.

Despite waiting lists for organs in many countries, the percentage of individuals registered in national organ donation registries in most countries is below 40%. The United States fares a bit better than average, with 48% of adults registered as organ donors. Registries provide information to clinicians about a patient’s wishes regarding organ donation, which reduces confusion for families in the case of an unexpected death.

Boosting donor registrations could help reduce the number of patients on waiting lists for an organ transplant. But not everyone is comfortable with organ donation. Some people have religious concerns or worry that being a donor will negatively affect the medical care they receive. Concerns about organ donation have led to lower-than-average rates of registration in Ontario, Canada, where only about 25% of adults have registered. Currently, there are more than 1500 people on transplant waiting lists in Ontario.

To help assuage some concerns, Alvin Ho-ting Li, BHSc, a PhD candidate at Western University in Ontario, Canada, compared physicians’ rate of registration in Ontario’s organ donor registry with the rate of registration among matched nonphysician controls. The registration status of more than 15 000 physicians and more than 60 000 matched controls were compared.

Li and his colleagues found that 6596 or 43.3% of the physicians were registered as organ donors compared with 29.5% (17 975) of the matched controls. Women physicians, younger physicians, and physicians living in rural communities were more likely to donate than other groups. Certain medical specialties also had higher-than-average organ donation rates, including emergency medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, or psychiatry.

Li discussed the findings with news@JAMA:

news@JAMA: Why did you decide to do this study?

Li: A common myth that deters people from becoming an organ donor is that physicians won’t try as hard to treat you if you sign up to become a donor. We thought that one way to combat that myth is to show that physicians are more willing to register themselves.

news@JAMA: What are other factors that discourage donor registration?

Li: There are a lot of factors. One of biggest is lack of knowledge about the existence of the local registry. Some individuals think carrying a donor card is enough, and they don’t know a database exists. It is important to register your decision to donate so that it can be made available to the right people at the right time and shared with your loved ones.
There may be cultural concerns and other myths about organ donation that also deter people from registering.

news@JAMA: Why do you think Ontario physicians are more likely to register than the public?

Li: Physicians may be more aware of the importance of donation and organ transplants. Hopefully, they are more supportive as well. They should be encouraging more people to donate and lead from the front.

news@JAMA: What do you think can be done to increase the public’s comfort level with organ donation?

Li: One of the most important steps is to further raise awareness of the importance of registering as an organ donor. It’s also important to make sure people know where and how to register and how important organ donation is to many people who need a transplant.

Many people are supportive, but haven’t taken action to register nor have talked to their family members about their desire to donate. There are many myths about organ donation that need to be addressed. For example, some people worry they will not able to have open casket if they agree to donate. Others worry they are too old or not in good enough health to become an organ donor. None of the these are true.

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