An organ donation video people can watch on an iPod, while they wait at the Department of Motor Vehicles may encourage more to become donors, according to a study. The findings, reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine, point to one potential fix for a well-known problem: that the need for donor organs far exceeds the supply, a gap that in the United States is especially large among minorities. Of the people who saw the video, 84 percent consented to be a donor, versus 72 percent of those who didn't watch it. The effect was larger among African Americans, with 76 percent of those who watched it agreeing to become donors against 54 percent of those who didn't.
“One reason is that the need for donor organs is so great,” said J. Daryl Thornton of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, the lead researcher. African Americans are three times more likely than whites to develop kidney disease, and they account for one-third of the waiting list for donor kidneys.
Encouraging organ donation
Surveys have pointed to some reasons why not enough people consent to be donors. Many are unaware of the great need for donor organs, while others mistrust the medical establishment and think they won't get life-saving measures if doctors know they are a donor. Others think their religion disapproves of organ donation, though most have no rules against it. There have been some efforts, such as billboards and radio spots, to educate people about organ donation, but they haven't met with much success, Thornton told Reuters Health.
“Video has the ability to capture people on so many different levels,” he said, noting that he and his colleagues thought showing a video at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), before people are asked to become donors, might work. Driver's licenses in many U.S. states carry notification of whether the bearer wants to be an organ donor, and people go to the DMV to apply for their license or renew it.
Thornton's team produced a five-minute video featuring an ethnically-diverse group of “real” people – organ donors and recipients, family members of recipients and family of people who died waiting for an organ.
They talked about what organ donation meant to them, hitting on common obstacles to people's willingness to become donors, such as mistrust of doctors and religious views. The video was tested at 12 Cleveland, Ohio-area DMVs, with two days at each location. Half of each day was designated as the “intervention” period, where license-seekers watched the video on an iPod, and during the other half nobody saw it.
Overall, 443 people saw the video and 84 percent agreed to become organ donors. That compared with 72 percent of the 509 people who did not see the video. About 20 percent of all study participants were African American. The video raised their consent rate by 22 percentage points, versus 11 percentage points among white viewers. Thornton's team also found that people's attitudes shifted after seeing the video. They felt more knowledgeable about organ donation and had fewer conflicts about it than their counterparts who had not seen the video.
“We just have to present the information in a way that's accessible to people,” Thornton said, noting that video is great because it's inexpensive and in theory, DMVs anywhere could run the video – and not necessarily on an iPod. A big question is still whether any increase in organ-donor consent will ultimately lead to a bigger organ supply. “A lot of things happen between consent and donation,” Thornton said.