The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) said it has received additional federal funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for continued work on technology to electronically label and track donated organs for transplant. This technology, UNOS said, will enhance efficiency and patient safety by ensuring accuracy of key information on each package for transport.  

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  The additional funding allows field testing and further “proof of concept” development of the system, as well as assessment of its potential to allow tracking of organs during transportation, according to UNOS. Field testing is currently underway with five organ procurement organizations. As the system is studied and refined, beta testing will occur later in 2014 involving as many as eight organ procurement organizations.

The pilot project began in 2013 and involves training and equipping organ recovery staff to use small, handheld electronic devices to print unique, bar-coded labels for each organ and each additional item (blood samples, lymph nodes, extra vessels, etc.) to be packaged. Each label can then be scanned to verify that the package contains the proper organ and additional materials to be shipped to the appropriate transplant center.

Most life-saving donor organs are packaged with handwritten labels from information transcribed or verified from separate documents, according to UNOS. Some of the information must be duplicated multiple times, depending on the number of organs being packaged. It is particularly complex to label multiple organs gifted from a single donor, UNOS said. Each organ is prepared and packaged in the same operating room, and often each will travel to a different recipient at a different hospital. Errors or illegibility can lead to delays or confusion as information is checked later in the transplant process. The error rate has historically been incredibly low, UNOS said, but improvements in the process can decrease opportunities for delays in this life-saving process.

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“This new technology is making the process easier for our teams and improving our service to donor families and transplant recipients,” said Susan Gunderson, CEO of LifeSource, a donation agency serving the Upper Midwest, and one of five organ procurement organizations participating in the pilot project and field-testing the new technology.