Business school professors at Harvard and MIT are using some of the same mathematical tools used by hedge funds to devise a new system for giving away donated organs.
In a working paper posted by the Harvard Business School, three researchers found that the life expectancies of transplant patients can be increased by up to 8 percent if quantitative tools are used to establish organ donation policies.
The paper focuses on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which set out to revise its model for determining the priority order of donation recipients in 2004.
The current model is a point system that gives patients marks for how long they have been waiting for a transplant and how likely their body is to accept an available organ, says paper co-author Nikos Trichakis, an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School. A higher probability of organ acceptance means the transplant is more likely to be successful and the patient may live longer.
A criticism of the current system is that it doesn’t account for the fact that medical advances made over the last 20 years mean some patients were living longer while waiting for an organ. (The HBS and MIT paper specifically looked at kidney donations, where patients awaiting a transplant can survive on dialysis for years.) The long wait time for an organ may make those patients preferred candidates for transpalnts under the current system, regardless of the likelihood of their survival. In Trichakis’ view, it’s an inefficient system for allocating a resource in high demand and short supply.
"It is almost a first-come, first-serve system," he says. "Some people might think this system is fair, but there is no efficiency component to it. We're not making the best use of the organs."