IT Speeds Bone Marrow Transplants To Save Lives

Business process management and analytics tools are expected to double number of transplants and halve wait time.
When people talk about health IT, it’s often in the context of how technology can improve patient care by preventing mistakes -- like alerting a doctor to a patient’s allergies or a drug interaction before a prescription gets ordered. But a project that’s underway by the National Marrow Donor Program reminds us that IT can do more than stop medical blunders. It can also facilitate life-saving cures.

The NMDP, which operates the national “Be The Match Registry,” organizes about 5,000 U.S. transplants a year, matching donors with patients who need transplants of bone marrow or umbilical cord blood to treat leukemia, genetic disorders and other life-threatening diseases.

Sadly, transplants from unrelated donors are often the only hope these patients and their families have left. The wait for a bone marrow transplant typically is 96 days, and only about 4 in 10 patients receive the transplants due to long waits and other factors.

The registry lists more than 8 million potential donors and 160,000 blood cord units. Even when a match is found, logistical issues often extend a recipient’s wait for a transplant and sometimes result in donors dropping out.

NMDP is piloting IBM analytics software and business process management tools that it plans to use to cut that average wait for a transplant to 45 days or less, and double the number done annually to 10,000. That’s twice as many lives saved in half the time compared with the current system.

NMDP plans to launch the larger rollout of the IBM WebSphere Lombardi software next year.

The software will automate many time-consuming steps involved with organizing a match and making a transplant happen, including streamlining the record-matching process and keeping case managers, recipients, donors and their healthcare providers in the loop about where things stand throughout the process.

A big part of speeding up transplants is collaboration. Case managers, donors and recipients will use a secure web portal to receive and send information about the steps involved with a perspective transplant, he said. “A big part is keeping people informed, getting visibility into processes so that there aren't surprises, said Phil Gilbert, IBM VP of BPM.

The system will track down and help get donors ready for the transplant once a match is found. That involves sending electronic reminders to make sure they show up for necessary medical tests and working with them to quickly reschedule if they need to change an appointment, Gilbert said.

NMDP will be able to scale the BPM platform to coordinate with global partners as it expands its efforts to Germany, France and other countries, Gilbert said. Those efforts will deepen donor pools, potentially saving even more lives around the world.

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