UK’s NHS Blood and Transplant service ushers in a new era of organ allocation with first cloud-enabled heart transplant

Allocation schemes developed with IBM business process software help NHSBT optimize organ transplant outcomes.


Every year, approximately 63,000 patients are on waiting lists for organ transplants across the European Union¹. But before a single life is saved with a donor organ, a complex chain of events has to be coordinated linking donor organ factors, such as tissue type, age, ethnicity, clinical condition, and more, with priority patients to maximize equity of access and utility of organ transplantation overall. In the UK, responsibility for this life-critical chain of events falls to the NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) service, which operates the nation’s transplant waiting list and provides the matching and allocation processes to identify potential recipients of donated organs.

Figure 1: European Transplant Waitlist (1996–2015)²

While the number of organs donated for transplantation has been growing in the UK, on average three people die each day waiting for an organ transplant. “Making the most of your donor pool is absolutely critical to saving more lives,” says Sally Johnson, NHSBT Director of Organ Donation and Transplant. “Better allocation schemes mean we can use more organs than we would otherwise.”

The first organ transplant allocated using cloud technologies

On October 29th, NHSBT reached a critical milestone: the first transplant of an organ — a heart — allocated according to a new scheme developed using IBM Business Process Manager for process optimization and Operational Decision Manager on Cloud as the rules engine for the allocation scheme itself.

“The ability to develop and implement rules and to make changes to them quickly is absolutely critical in terms of delivering the end result from an allocation point of view,” says Aaron Powell, Chief Digital Officer, NHSBT. “Being able to make use of these rules effectively is where the BPM comes into play. We’ve found the BPM tool not only integrates well with the ODM. It also integrates well into our existing systems, which is really important to capturing workflow and implementing it quickly.”

What excites Mr. Powell as he looks to the future is the potential emergence of self-learning environments. “Will the nature of the data going into in the system inform the way we design allocation schemes in the future? In the longer-term could we get to a point where the system is almost learning for itself and helping us achieve the competing demands of equity of access and organ utility over time? I think yes. We absolutely see this as being a step towards more intelligent allocation schemes over time.”

Maximizing outcomes with business process software

The challenge of doing more with less is universal, with organizations in both the public and private sector grappling with how to allocate scarce resources to achieve their own set of critical outcomes. Regardless of whether a life, an application delivery deadline or the on-time delivery of a customer’s order is at stake, business process management — leveraging technology to identify, understand and optimize both internal and outward-facing processes — is the key to setting any organization up for success.

Learn more about IBM business process software

SOURCES:

1. European Commission, “Journalist Workshop on Organ donation and transplantation: Recent Facts & Figures”, 2014, http://ec.europa.eu/health/blood_tissues_organs/docs/ev_20141126_factsfigures_en.pdf
2. Eurotransplant.org,” Waiting list registrations in All ET, by year, by organ”, http://statistics.eurotransplant.org/reportloader.php?report=51950-6141&format=html