New guidelines may hurt Hoosiers waiting on new livers

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.- If you need a new liver, you might be looking at a longer wait. That’s because new guidelines will likely favor patients living in more densely populated parts of the country.

Right now,  81 people are waiting for livers at IU Health in Indianapolis, and starting next year, some doctors like Shekhar Kubal fear they could be waiting even longer.

“Currently, patients wait about two and a half months before they get a transplant,” said Kubal, “and I anticipate that will be much longer.”

And that, Dr. Kubal says, could lead to more deaths.

Under the new guidelines established by the United Network for Organ Sharing, priority will be given to patients based on the severity of their condition with less weight put on the patient’s geographic location.

“It’s something that worries us, but at the same time we are prepared to accept this challenge,” said Kubal.

Doctors have long complained the current system doesn’t do much to help patients in higher-population areas, like on either coast, where the number of patients needing transplants is higher. The new guidelines likely mean donor organs will be flown greater distances and patients in some areas will have to be sicker before they’re cleared for a transplant.

“We tell our patients that we will find ways to transplant them, we will find livers for them,” said Kubal, “but we are also preparing them to wait longer.”

Last year, IU Health doctors performed 151 liver transplants. They say despite the coming changes, they anticipate meeting their patients’ needs.

“We believe we will transplant our patients without having much of a problem,” said Kubal.

Those new guidelines are set to take effect in early 2019. Dr. Kubal says if data shows the new guidelines aren’t improving patient outcomes, changes can again be made.

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