Paul Wilder, executive director of the Commonwell Health Alliance, shares on the Change Healthcare podcast why advocating for advance care plans and ensuring consumer education on the subject is crucial.
CommonWell Health Alliance is a not-for-profit trade association devoted to the simple vision that health data should be available to individuals and caregivers regardless of where care occurs.
OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Anyone, regardless of age or medical history, can sign up to be an organ, eye and tissue donor and potentially save lives after death.
In fact, there are many people well up into their 80s and 90s that donate. The decision to use your organs is based on health of the organ, not age. So, don’t disqualify yourself prematurely. Let the doctors decide at your time of death whether your organs and tissues are suitable for transplantation.
In the United States alone, more than 112,000 people are on the waiting list for organ transplants. But because the demand is so much greater than the supply, those on the list routinely wait three to seven years for an organ, and more than 7,000 of them die each year.
Organs that can be donated include the kidneys, liver, lungs, heart, pancreas and intestines. Tissue is also needed to replace bone, tendons and ligaments. Corneas are needed to restore sight. Skin grafts help burn patients heal and often mean the difference between life and death. And heart valves repair cardiac defects and damage.
By donating your organs after you die, you can save or improve as many as 50 lives. The United Network for Organ Sharing maintains the OPTN, a national computer registry that matches donors to waiting recipients.
Some other things you should know about being an organ donor are that it does not in any way compromise the medical care you would receive in a hospital if you are sick or injured, nor does it interfere with having an open-casket funeral if you want that option. And, most major religions in the United States support organ donation and consider it as the final act of love and generosity toward others.
How to Donate
If you would like to become a donor, there are several steps you should take to ensure your wishes are carried out, including:
Registering: Add your name to your state or regional organ and tissue donor registry. You can do this online at either OrganDonor.gov or DonateLife.net. If you don’t have Internet access, call Donate Life America at 804-377-3580 and they can sign you up over the phone.
Identify yourself: Designate your decision to become an organ donor on your driver’s license, which you can do when you go in to renew it. If, however, you don’t drive anymore or if your renewal isn’t due for a while, consider getting a state ID card – this also lets you indicate you want to be a donor. You can get an ID card for a few dollars at your nearby driver’s license office.
Tell your family: Even if you are a registered donor, in many states, family members have the ultimate say whether your organs may be donated after you die. So, clarify your wishes to family. Also tell your doctors and indicate your wishes in your advance directives. These are legal documents that spell out your wishes regarding your end-of-life medical treatment when you can no longer make decisions for yourself. If you don’t have an advance directive, go to MyDirectives.com where you can create one for free.
If we have learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that a health emergency can strike at any moment. But are we prepared?
As Dr. Elizabeth Clayborne teaches us in her TEDx talk “How to protect your body and your doctor’s soul during Covid-19,” laying out your goals of care and delegating who speaks for you if you cannot speak for yourself before an emergency strikes can drastically help hospitals and patients adequately manage high-risk patients, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. One third of Medicare spending occurs in the last year of life, often on treatments done without the consultation of the person receiving the care. COVID-19 has exacerbated these issues, often barring family and caretakers from visiting their loved ones in their last moments, creating not only a crisis of the soul, but within hospitals as well, as providers are left without crucial information into a patient’s medical wishes. Despite these truths, less than 30 percent of Americans have an advance care plan outlining their wishes that is accessible to medical providers.
As Dr. Clayborne discusses, advance care planning platforms such as MyDirectives help doctors understand someone’s values and goals in emergencies where patients cannot speak for themselves. “I want to know what you want, where is your voice, and what are your values?” Dr. Clayborne says. She doesn’t just speak from the perspective of a healthcare provider – she knows this from the perspective of a patient too, having given birth to a daughter in the middle of the pandemic.
Amid the pandemic, especially as we face the prospect of a deadly second wave, it is critical that Americans understand the ways in which they can help protect themselves, their families, and the healthcare workers that serve them.