Interventions for increasing solid organ donor registration

What is the issue?

There is a global need to increase the number of available organs for transplantation. One possible strategy is to encourage more individuals to register as organ donors.

What did we do?

To address this, we identified 46 studies that tested various strategies to encourage people to register as an organ donor. Sixteen of these studies measured actual registration, 27 studies measured people’s intention to register/donate and three studies measured both.

What did we find?

Studies were conducted in widely different settings including schools, driver motor vehicle (DMV) centres, primary care and in the local community. Studies also used widely different strategies to increase registration such as education, training peer-leaders, training DMV or primary care staff, and framing information about organ donation in certain ways.

We found that studies had a small overall effect on people’s intention to register/donate along with actual registration rates, however, no particular strategy stood out as being more effective than the rest. There was encouraging evidence that training peer-leaders in the community to deliver organ donation education may improve registration rates and classroom-based education from members of the transplant community may improve intention to register/donate. There was also some evidence that framing organ donation information in certain ways may help increase people’s intention to register/donate but further studies are needed.


In summary, strategies to increase organ donation registration have some benefit but vary considerably in terms of the setting in which they are delivered, who they target and how they are delivered.

Authors' conclusions: 

In our review, we identified a variety of approaches used to increase organ donor registration including school-based educational sessions and videos, leveraging peer leaders in the community, DMV staff training, targeted messaging and priming. The variability in outcome measures used and incompleteness in reporting meant that most data could not be combined for analysis. When data were combined, overall effect sizes were small in favour of intervention groups over controls, however, there was significant variability in the data. There was some evidence that leveraging peer-leaders in the community to deliver organ donation education may improve registration rates and classroom-based education from credible individuals (i.e. members of the transplant community) may improve intention to register/donate, however, there is no clear evidence favouring any particular approach. There was mixed evidence for simple, low-intensity interventions utilising message framing and priming. However, it is likely that interest in these strategies will persist due to their reach and scalability. Further research is therefore required to adequately address the question of the most effective interventions for increasing deceased organ donor registration.

Read the full abstract...

A solution for increasing the number of available organs for transplantation is to encourage more individuals to register a commitment for deceased organ donation. However, the percentage of the population registered for organ donation remains low in many countries.


To evaluate the benefits and harms of various interventions used to increase deceased organ donor registration.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Kidney and Transplant Register of Studies up to 11 August 2020 through contact with an Information Specialist using search terms relevant to this review. Studies in the Register are identified through searches of CENTRAL, MEDLINE, and EMBASE, conference proceedings, the International Clinical Trials Register Search Portal and

Selection criteria: 

We included all randomised controlled trials (RCTs), cluster RCTs and quasi-RCTs of interventions to promote deceased organ donor registration. We included studies if they measured self-reported or verified donor registration, intention to donate, intention to register a decision or number of individuals signing donor cards as outcomes.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two authors independently assessed retrieved studies and extracted data from included studies. We assessed studies for risk of bias. We obtained summary estimates of effect using a random-effects model and expressed results as risk ratios (RR) (95% confidence intervals; CI) for dichotomous outcomes and mean difference (MD; 95% CI) or standardised mean difference (SMD; 95% CI) for continuous outcomes. In multi-arm trials, data were pooled to create single pair-wise comparisons. Analyses were stratified by specific intervention setting where available.

Main results: 

Our search strategy identified 46 studies (47 primary articles, including one abstract) comprising 24 parallel RCTs, 19 cluster RCTs and 3 quasi-RCTs. Sample sizes ranged from 138 to 1,085,292 (median = 514). A total of 16 studies measured registration behaviour, 27 measured intention to register/donate and three studies measured both registration behaviour and intention to register.

Interventions were delivered in a variety of different settings: schools (14 studies), driver’s motor vehicle (DMV) centres (5), mail-outs (4), primary care centres (3), workplaces (1), community settings (7) and general public (12). Interventions were highly varied in terms of their content and included strategies such as educational sessions and videos, leveraging peer leaders, staff training, message framing, and priming. Most studies were rated as having high or unclear risk of bias for random sequence generation and allocation concealment and low risk for the remainder of the domains.

Data from 34/46 studies (74%) were available for meta-analysis. Low certainty evidence showed organ donation registration interventions had a small overall effect on improving registration behaviour (16 studies, 1,294,065 participants: RR 1.30, 95% CI 1.19 to 1.43, I2 = 84%), intention to register/donate (dichotomous) (10 studies, 10,838 participants: RR 1.21, 95% CI 1.03 to 1.42, I2 = 91%) and intention to register/donate (continuous) (9 studies, 3572 participants: SMD 0.23, 95% CI 0.11 to 0.36, I2 = 67%).

Classroom-based interventions delivered in a lecture format by individuals from the transplant community may be effective at increasing intention to register/donate (3 studies, 675 participants: RR 1.33, 95% CI 1.15 to 1.55, I² = 0%). Community interventions targeting specific ethnic groups were generally effective at increasing registration rates (k = 5, n = 4186; RR 2.14, 95% CI 1.35 to 3.40, I² = 85%), although heterogeneity was high. In particular, interventions delivered in the community by trained peer-leaders appear to be effective (3 studies, 3819 participant: RR 2.09, 95% CI 1.08 to 4.06, I² = 87%), although again, the data lacked robustness. There was some evidence that framing messages (e.g. anticipated regret) and priming individuals (e.g. reciprocity) in a certain way may increase intention to register/donate, however, few studies measured this effect on actual registration.

Overall, the studies varied significantly in terms of design, setting, content and delivery. Selection bias was evident and a quarter of the studies could not be included in the meta-analysis due to incomplete outcome data reporting. No adverse events were reported.