NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Doctors are almost twice as likely as the general public to be registered organ donors, according to a study of Canadian physicians.
“A common myth is that physicians won't work as hard to save the lives of patients if they know they are registered for organ donation,” said lead author Alvin Ho-ting Li.
These results demonstrate that, as registered donors, physicians are more confident in the donation and transplantation system than most other people, he told Reuters Health by email.
“These findings can help dispel that myth,” said Li, of Western University in London, Ontario, who worked on the study.
Li and his team used cross-referenced data on 15,000 active physicians in Ontario in 2013 and 60,000 residents similar in age, sex, income and residential neighborhood with an organ donor registry.
More than 43 percent of the doctors were registered organ donors, compared to 30 percent of their matched comparison group and 24 percent of the general public in Ontario, according to the results in JAMA.
Doctors who were younger, female or living in a rural community were more likely to be registered.
“Many physicians see the ramifications of the organ donation shortage first hand in their patients, so they may be more motivated to contribute to the shortage if possible,” said Dr. Claire Wakefield of Sydney Children's Hospital in Randwick, Australia, who was not part of the new study.
Performing many medical procedures may also make the prospect of organ donation less intimidating for doctors, she told Reuters Health by email.
“I think the Canadian findings are likely to be reflective of the situation in industrialized countries with universal health care coverage, which doesn't include the U.S.” said Susan E. Morgan, director of the Center for Communication, Culture, and Change at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida.
“Although we all expect doctors to know everything health-related, they really don't,” Morgan, who was not involved in the study, told Reuters Health by email. “They're regular people who are influenced by the dominant norms in their culture, just like everyone else.”
Although Morgan has worked on public education campaigns for organ donation in the U.S., she said she was surprised there weren’t more physician organ donors in Ontario.
Many Americans are still uneasy about organ donation due to lack of information, she said.
“We have a truly excellent system in this country that does quite well when it comes to protecting potential donors,” Morgan said.
Doctors and other medical staff have no control over whether someone can become a donor, which is determined by various medical criteria, nor over who will receive those organs, she said.
“The medical personnel who work very, very hard to save the lives of people who are gravely injured or dying are not the same people who do organ transplants - and they don't even work with people who are on the transplant waiting list,” she said. “These are very different medical specialties.”
Currently almost 123,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for an organ transplant, most commonly for a kidney or liver, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.
“We hope that these results will generate further discussion and awareness, and encourage everyone to sign up for organ and tissue donation,” Li said.
SOURCE: bit.ly/1nax5Hh JAMA, online July 16, 2014.