Learn how big data creates new hope for those in need of heart transplants.

Advances in data mining may find potential candidates earlier so they get the right care at the right time. 

Transplant science has made great strides since it was pioneered at a handful of medical centers in the 1980s, including UPMC. Today, new protocols and state-of-the-art immunosuppression therapies are expanding the donor pool, enabling hospitals worldwide to routinely perform operations that were impossible just a short time ago.

But barriers remain, particularly in an environment of constant donor shortages. One critical challenge is to extend the effectiveness of transplants through the early identification of candidates who ultimately will need a transplant, so their health may be properly managed in order to achieve the most successful outcome possible.

Never Miss a Beat!

Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!

Message and data rates may apply. Text the word STOP to opt out and HELP for help. Click here to view the privacy and terms.

Using High Tech Tools to Find Transplant Candidates

Scientists at UPMC’s Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute are pushing the envelope on this front with a new tool: Big Data — the same technology that industries use to run supply chains and find new customers. In the case of heart transplantation, the analysis is based on medical factors, symptoms, doctor visits, and lifestyle choices.

UPMC researchers are leading the efforts to explore their network of patients and find new ways to bring heart transplant candidates into the treatment process earlier. Their goal is to identify patients in the hospital system who would benefit from referral for advanced heart failure management, including evaluation for transplant, in the hopes of supporting and caring for them when they’re at a higher level of health.

The Right Treatment at the Right Time

Why is it important to reach and treat patients earlier? Doctors say UPMC’s program tends to see a relatively higher proportion of acute end-stage heart failure patients, and many have already experienced a gradual decline in health before they are referred to the heart transplant team. Using medical records to identify them before they reach that condition can help doctors define a strategy that prepares them better, introduces them to UPMC’s heart failure experts earlier, and maintains them on their health path for a longer time before they need a transplant.

Better Timing, Potentially Better Outcomes

The team is using a software application developed at UPMC to comb the electronic medical records (EMR) of potential recipients in the UPMC system, applying a variety of filters that include heart function, pacemaker implantation, medications, hospitalization for congestive heart failure, and other factors that can be used to predict the need for transplantation. After it’s refined, doctors believe that once certain criteria is met, a system could be in place which will enable them to flag their patient’s primary cardiologist, designated family member, UPMC, or other appropriate sources to advise them that it’s now time to schedule an appointment.

A Natural Fit

Advanced data analysis for transplantation is a natural fit for UPMC, where organ transplantation first made great strides through the pioneering research of Thomas E. Starzl, MD in the 1980s. UPMC is one of a handful of hospitals with the resources and experience to perform all types of transplants, including high-risk operations, plus the data mining capabilities to reach new recipients. Doctors say the goal is to never have to tell someone who needs a transplant, “You’re too sick for us to help you.”

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.