The US organ transplant network is built on shaky technology, reports say:


The nonprofit that operates the organ transplant network in the United States has outdated technology and has never been fully controlled by the federal government, according to a confidential report. obtained by The Washington Post.

The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) has two responsibilities: running the logistics system that powers organ transplants and deciding how to prioritize organ distribution. The draft report, prepared in January 2021 by the US White House digital service, recommended separating those two elements under two different contracts, The Washington Post say.

UNOS receives approximately $6.5 million each year from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which oversees the transplant system. But HRSA lacks technical expertise and has little power to push the network to improve its systems, according to the report.

The Washington Post pointed out some notable technical flaws in the report:

  • The UNOS computer system has crashed for a total of 17 days since 1999. Once it was unavailable for three hours — a worrying amount of time because organs can begin to break down in just four hours and are not viable for transplant.
  • UNOS runs most of its systems from a local data center rather than a cloud computing system, which is said to improve performance.
  • It requires manual data entry.
  • UNOS has never allowed government officials to see the full code behind the system, which the organization says is a trade secret.

Lawmakers are alarmed by security vulnerabilities in UNOS systems, according to a letter from senators to the Department of Homeland Security seen by The Washington Post. There are no cybersecurity requirements for UNOS, they said. Senate Finance Committee Holds Hearing on US Organ System on Wednesdayand UNOS chief executive Brian Shepard is scheduled to testify.

Shepard told The Washington Post that the Department of Health and Human Services audits the system every year, that the report was still a draft, and that “the transplant system is safe and effective.”

UNOS is the only group ever to be contracted to perform organ transplants in the United States. The contract is likely to be offered in 2023, according to The Washington Post.

HRSA told The Washington Post it was “committed to using all available tools to modernize the organ procurement and transplantation network, including leveraging the upcoming contract process to increase accountability.”