🦄 vol. 56
jonty (feature) chats about the organ donor problem 🫀
yeah, we know it’s tuesday. “we’re a/b testing” as sash likes to say.
only just meeting the “twenty-something” description of uc, jonty is a second-year medical student whose interests have spilled over into the world of start-ups and tech. in between medical school lectures, he’s managed to gain experience working with medical ventures coming out of the delta, and recently started a position with one of bcg’s new start-ups. his piece has come off another one of his passion projects, an npo that aims to raise awareness about posthumous organ donation.
can virality save lives? 🫀
Way back in the archive, Matt looked at the role of emerging biotech as a means of addressing the organ donor shortfall. And while the technology may eventually leapfrog current methods, it seems the scalable deployment of pig-to-human kidney transplants and 3D printed hearts is a little way off. But do not despair; there may be a simpler stopgap as we wait for the tech world to catch-up.
The problem 🤕
The global organ donor shortfall and the factors that have contributed to the current state of affairs, have been well-documented. To bring it closer to home, here’s what we’re dealing with:
5,000 South Africans are currently waiting for a life-saving organ transplant.
400 potentially life-saving organs are buried each week.
Where are you going with this? 👀
Well, as the saying goes, there are many ways to skin a cat. The slam-dunk here would be to follow in the footsteps of Austria, Belgium and Denmark, whereby citizens are born organ donors in what has come to be known as an “opt-out” model (versus South Africa’s “opt-in” model). Spain, who arguably have one of the most successful organ donation programs in history, couples the “opt-out” model with in-hospital counsellors to provide information at the coalface, arming families of potential donors with more context and insight into the process (and converting them in the process). But public policy is hard, and it seems our government has more pressing issues to attend to (see Eskom, for one).
A brief digression… 🤓
Borrowing from disparate industries is a much-storied occurrence in the start-up and corporate world alike, and healthcare is no stranger either. Checklists, a cornerstone of aviation safety, have become commonplace in surgical theatres around the world. Real-time data analysis, which comes to shape race strategy and decision making in Formula 1, has been applied in clinical settings to provide predictive insights for wards of children following cardiac surgery. And while these are both cool and compelling examples, there may be another industry that can help healthcare.
And it’s probably not what you'd think.
So here’s the pitch… 💥
And here’s where applying another industry’s framework may be of use. In essence, solving for the organ donation supply problem looks a lot like a user acquisition funnel (remember Marketing 101?). Awareness, that progresses to consideration and intent, before ultimately resulting in action. Well, that’s the hope at least.
So, my ideal solution would be: a system that educates and motivates people to have this conversation with their next of kin, and incentivises them to continue this cycle by sharing it with their friends.
Enter the world of marketing. Here’s 3x ways we could achieve scale:
Virality 👥: Organically reach as many people as possible with educational content.
Gamification 🎮: Track individual / collective influence to drive behaviour.
Incentives 🤑: Reward people who successfully share / influence.
The 3x elements mentioned above are tried and tested across industries. So, why not transplant this system from the marketing world into the healthcare world?
Here, we need to discuss the concept of “virality” and how it is usually achieved. Virality is a term used to describe the exponential spreading of an entity (be that information, a cat video or ds-RNA) where each user generates more users. Primal organisms achieve this by hijacking host cells to create new copies of themselves, TikTok users achieve this by generating content that makes you want to share it with your friends, and marketers create frameworks that incentivise you to flood your network with information in order to get some sort of reward.
Why virality? 💭
When diving deeper into attitudes surrounding organ donation, it seems that a great deal of the hesitancy stems from a lack of information.
A handful of studies speak to the idea of mistrust in the medical system. Anecdotal evidence suggests some believe when treating a registered donor, doctors won’t do everything they can to save their life.
The largest source of doubt is rooted in medical misunderstanding, primarily when faced with the idea of brain death (where their organs are viable but they will never regain consciousness or be able to breathe without support). Studies reveal that most wouldn’t donate their loved one’s organs if their heart was still beating, despite being brain dead.
Death is scary, and so the taboo surrounding it precludes most from broaching the subject. Studies from both the US and UK speak to predominating fear around addressing death. It’s also evidenced in the fact that only 25% of Americans have advance directives.
The impact of religion and culture permeates views on organ donation too. According to some research, Catholics are less inclined to donate organs when compared to other religious groups. In South Africa, cultural opposition to organ donation has been well-chronicled.
In teasing apart the root of the hesitancy, it becomes evident that dissemination of information is necessary to move the needle. And the best way to deliver information at scale may be through, well, virality.
But, virality can only bring a horse to water… 😕
Information campaigns form part and parcel of most, if not all, public health policy and aim to drive health behaviour. Unknowingly, we’ve all participated in what will likely become one of the largest scale public health information campaigns in our lifetime (if not ever); that which sought to drive vaccination rates against COVID. It proved that using health information to prompt change remains a challenge, and also served as a reminder that virality drives both information and misinformation. Making the horse drink, or converting that awareness and intent into action, is the real skill.
Here is, perhaps, where the marketing analogy comes up short. In healthcare, there is far more nuance to every decision that is made, and the consequences thereof are far more weighty than signing up for a 2U course or adding those Gazelles to your cart.
The takeaway 🍔
… is more of an “eat-in”, in that I’m seeking answers more than providing them. So, in stewing this over, how would you, as a student, marketer, engineer, accountant or entrepreneur (to name a few) help me tackle this problem?
matt found this thread on private equity firms pretty useful
been working on your pitch deck? karl learnt from docsend that vcs are spending less than 3 minutes per deck and that the “why are you doing this” is rising to the ‘most important’ slide
sash wasn’t surprised to learn that tiktok has followed instagram in creating its own bereal clone