Understanding Disparities in Transplantation: Do Social Networks Provide the Missing Clue?


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Abstract

Although the National Organ Transplant Act calls for equity in access to transplantation, scarcity and racial disparities persist. To date, even the most comprehensive models have been unable to adequately explain these racial disparities, leaving policymakers unsure how best to intervene. Previous individual-level analyses, which have implicated risk factors such as race, financial status, cultural beliefs, unemployment, lack of commitment to surgery and lack of continuous access to care, overlook contextual and social network exposures. Social networks present a compelling way to examine cumulative risk clustered across individuals. Social networks have been shown to influence health outcomes and health behaviors through various pathways, including shared social capital, engaging in similar or group risky behaviors, diffusion of information and adopting or propagating social norms. Precursors to chronic kidney disease, including obesity, have been shown to spread through social networks. Social network analysis can reveal shared risks between potential donors and recipients in a given network, clarifying the likelihood of finding an appropriate match through either direct donation or paired exchanges. This paper presents a novel application of social network analysis to transplantation, illustrating implications for disparities and future clinical interventions.

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