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UB professor receives $630,468 federal grant for project aimed at increasing family consent to organ donation

Release Date: October 11, 2013

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Ashley Anker (Credit: Douglas Levere)

Ashley Anker

“There is a documented negative association between family consent rates and the degree of racial/ethnic diversity in a donation service area.”
Ashley Anker, research assistant professor of communication
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Ashley E. Anker, PhD, research assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University at Buffalo, has received a three-year, $630,468 federal grant to fund a project aimed at increasing family consent rates for organ donation.

It is one of eight federal grants awarded to the department’s faculty since 2003 for studies aimed at increasing organ donation.

This grant, awarded by the Health Resource Services Administration’s (HRSA) Division of Transplantation, will fund Anker’s project, “A Positive Deviance Approach to Improving Familial Consent Rates,” which targets organ procurement coordinators (OPCs), the individuals responsible for obtaining familial consent for organ donation.

The HRSA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) whose principle function is to improve access to health care services for those who are uninsured, isolated or medically vulnerable.

Anker says, “There is a documented negative association between family consent rates and the degree of racial/ethnic diversity in a donation service area. Our project focuses on improving OPCs’ communication with potential donor families so as to increase the likelihood of consent, particularly in those areas.”

She says the project is driven by the “Positive Deviance” approach, which holds that within any community there are individuals whose deviant, but positive, behaviors allow them to thrive despite circumstances that restrict their peers. Identifying the behaviors that explain improved outcomes, then encouraging community members to teach such skills to one another has been found to be a powerful method of producing change.

Anker says the research team first will identify OPCs who are “positive deviants” (PDs), in their field, that is, those with high consent rates even in service areas with diverse populations. They then will interview them to determine the communication skills they use when interacting with families of potential organ donors.

“We are interested in novel communication skills,” says Anker, “Those that set these coordinators apart from their peers.”

“Once the novel behaviors are identified, we will encourage coordinators in 11 discrete participating organ procurement organizations in 10 states to take ownership of the behaviors and employ them in their own requests,” she says. Of participating organizations, she says nine serve ethnically and racially diverse populations.

Information dissemination and training methods will include a video featuring advice from PD coordinators, an interactive project website, group discussions, role play activities, a training manual with supplementary participatory action learning activities, and online refresher courses.

To evaluate the success of the project, researchers will track changes in OPCs’ quarterly family consent rates over the course of the three-year project and compare these with their reported use of the new skills.

The Department of Health and Human Services reports that although people of most races and ethnicities in the U.S. donate in proportion to their representation in the population, the need for transplants in some groups is disproportionately high, frequently due to a high incidence of such conditions as high blood pressure or diabetes, both of which can lead to the need for a kidney transplant.

As of May 2013, African American, Pacific islanders, Native Americans and Hispanic/ Latinos comprised 54.7 percent of those in need of an organ transplant, for instance, although the 2010 census reported that these groups comprise only about 36 percent of the U.S. population.

Health communication is a major research focus of the UB Department of Communication, specifically that related to organ donation. Since 2003, its faculty members have conducted funded research on ways to increase the organ donation rate in the U.S. through the use of promotional messaging and educational interventions.

In addition to this project, Anker is completing two others with Thomas Feeley, PhD, professor and chair of the UB Department of Communication. The first studies ways in which interventions with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles can facilitate donor registration. The second involves a direct mail campaign to promote donor registration to adults between the ages of 50 and 64.

Media Contact Information

Patricia Donovan
News Content Manager, Arts and Humanities, Public Health, Social Sciences
Tel: 716-645-4602
pdonovan@buffalo.edu