When Campbell’s Law Collides With Organ Donation

I’ve written before about the effect Campbell’s Law has on education in the U.S., but for those who don’t know what Campbell’s Law is, I’ll turn it over to sociologist Donald Campbell:

The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.

Well, Dr. Campbell, meet the U.S.’s organ donation policy (boldface mine):

Hospitals across the United States are throwing away less-than-perfect organs and denying the sickest people lifesaving transplants out of fear that poor surgical outcomes will result in a federal crackdown.

As a result, thousands of patients are losing the chance at surgeries that could significantly prolong their lives, and the altruism of organ donation is being wasted….

He coauthored a recent study that showed a sharp uptick in the number of people dropped from organ transplant waiting lists since the federal government set transplant standards in 2007. These standards are tied to federal hospital ratings and Medicare funding, which is the main payer for transplants and a key source of income for hospitals. And hospitals’ ability to meet those standards helps determine their reputation within the medical community. Surgeries involving imperfect organs and extremely ill patients are more risky, so hospitals that do many of them run the risk of poor outcomes that may hurt their performance on the standards.

Soon after the study was published in April, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services changed its benchmarks to give hospitals — and surgeries — more leeway to fail. But patients and doctors are still uneasy about the erosion of one of transplantation’s fundamental principles: the sicker you are, the higher you move up the waiting list for donated organs.

Before anyone goes all BOOGA BOOGA on Obamacare, the problematic guidelines were issued during the Bush Administration.

Anyway, this just shows that you always have to be careful about ‘metrics’ and their consequences.

This entry was posted in Healthcare. Bookmark the permalink.