USC’s Liver Transplant Patients Show Low Survival Rate

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Dec 13, 2019

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USC University Hospital, owned by the for-profit Tenet Healthcare Corporation, has recently come under fire for high death rates in patients receiving liver transplants. In July 2006, the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, which analyzes data for the federal government, released statistics showing that USC had a higher than expected death rate. During a period of 2 years, 38 patients died within a year of their liver-transplant operations, 19 more deaths than expected.

The survival rate for USC liver transplant patients in the latest report is at an all-time low of 75.8 %, well below the 77 % required for certification for reimbursement from Medicare and the 80 % required by California’s Medi-Cal program. Only four hospitals in the entire country had a lower survival rate. (For nationwide statistics, see Center and OPO-Specific Reports (July 2006), and choose Table 11-Ad-1y: 1 Year Patient Survival, Adultfrom the pull-down menu.

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Dr. Rick Selby, the director of USC’s liver-transplant program, adamantly defended his program. He argued first that the statistics were misleading because USC did more liver-only transplants, while other hospitals opted to do liver and kidney transplants. Since the statistics for these transplant operations are kept separately, he theorized that USC would not have a lower survival rate if the statistics were analyzed together. This argument is contradicted, however, by the statistics from the neighboring hospital at UCLA. The liver-transplant-survival rate at UCLA has been 86 %, while the liver and kidney-transplant-rate has been 81 %, both above USC’s rate for liver-only transplants.

Selby also argued that the statistics are due to the fact that USC treats very ill patients, but Dr. John R. Lake, the director of liver transplants at the University of Minnesota Medical Center and the chair of the liver and intestinal organ transplantation committee of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), says that the analysis of the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients factors in the health of transplant recipients in determining the expected number of survivors. New reports reveal that Loma Linda University Medical Center, which treats a higher percentage of seriously ill liver-transplant patients than USC, has a survival rate of 98 %.

Dr. Lake also stated that given the large number of liver transplants performed by USC, the results cannot be attributed to chance. UNOS is the federal contractor set up to monitor the effectiveness and fairness of organ transplants in the United States, and Lake expects it to initiate an investigation and demand answers from USC to explain why the death rate for patients receiving liver transplants is twice that expected. The California Department of Health Services has also announced an intention to investigate the USC liver-transplant program.

For more information about this and other liver transplant investigations in California, see USC Liver Transplant Program under Investigation: Third California Hospital Faces Review and More Problems for California’s Transplant Programs: Is USC Next in Line for Transplant Lawsuits?. For a free evaluation of your personal injury, wrongful death, or medical malpractice case, you can fill out our case evaluation form.

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