Many patients with acute devastating brain injury die outside intensive care units and could go unrecognized as potential organ donors. We conducted a prospective observational study in seven hospitals in the Netherlands to define the number of unrecognized potential organ donors outside intensive care units, and to identify the effect that end-of-life care has on organ donor potential. Records of all patients who died between January 2013 and March 2014 were reviewed. Patients were included if they died within 72 h after hospital admission outside the intensive care unit due to devastating brain injury, and fulfilled the criteria for organ donation. Physicians of included patients were interviewed using a standardized questionnaire regarding logistics and medical decisions related to end-of-life care. Of the 5170 patients screened, we found 72 additional potential organ donors outside intensive care units. Initiation of end-of-life care in acute settings and lack of knowledge and experience in organ donation practices outside intensive care units can result in under-recognition of potential donors equivalent to 11–34% of the total pool of organ donors. Collaboration with the intensive care unit and adjusting the end-of-life path in these patients is required to increase the likelihood of organ donation.
Initiation of end-of-life care in acute settings, as well as lack of knowledge and experience in organ donation practices, results in underrecognition of patients who could be organ donors.