United Network for Organ Sharing FAQs

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Is UNOS a government agency? 

No. UNOS is the private, non-profit organization that serves as the nation’s organ transplant system—the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN)—under contract with and oversight by the federal government. 

What is the OPTN? 

The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network is the name of the transplant system in the United States. It’s a unique public-private partnership that links all professionals involved in the U.S. donation and transplantation system. The OPTN brings together medical professionals, transplant recipients, donor families, and representatives from transplant associations to develop organ transplantation policy. UNOS serves as the OPTN under contract with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

How are organ allocation policies created? 

The OPTN acts through its board of directors and committees, experts from the donation and transplantation community and general public representatives (organ recipients, organ donor families, living donors). Committees address issues of concern in the transplant community and develop evidence-based policies for board review and approval. The board establishes and maintains transplant policies (operational rules) and bylaws (membership requirements) that govern the OPTN. 

What is UNOS’ role in the broader transplant system and community?

Many people think UNOS oversees every facet of the transplant process. We don’t. We do oversee the ways that patients get matched with available organ offers. And we also work with and for the transplant community to improve the resources and support we provide.

UNOS is the forum for organ donation and transplant professionals to come together and determine how the national system should work.

UNOS has three key roles in managing the national transplant system:

  • Promoting equitable access to available organs (making sure that all people listed for a transplant have similar chances to receive an organ)
  • Maximizing organ utilization (making sure that as many donated organs as possible are used)
  • Increasing transplant system efficiency (improving the processes involved in the placement of organs)

UNOS also runs a privately funded virtual research center, UNOS LabsSM. UNOS has invested more than $1M to support this initiative through research, innovation and collaboration with the transplant and broader scientific communities. UNOS Labs provides the opportunity to test new technologies before committing to investing resources into the national transplantation system.

Does UNOS register patients for transplants? 

Only transplant hospitals can register patients on the waiting list for transplant or remove them from the list.  

What is the technology that operates the match runs?

UNetSM is UNOS’ centralized computer network that links all organ procurement organizations, transplant hospitals and histocompatibility labs. Thousands of transplant professionals access this secure web-based transplant platform each day to list patients for transplant, match patients with available donor organs and submit required OPTN data.

What is UNOS’ role in living donation? 

In 2019, nearly 7,400 people became living donors, more than in any previous year. The OPTN Living Donor Committee develops policy and guidance supporting the donation and transplantation of organs from living donors to recipients. The committee’s goal is to continue to improve the informed choice of prospective living donors and increase the number of organs available for transplant.

Who are our members? 

Every transplant hospital program, organ procurement organization, and transplant histocompatibility laboratory in the U.S. is a member. Membership means that an institution meets OPTN requirements and that it plays an active role in forming the policies that govern the transplant community. 

Other OPTN members include voluntary health organizations, such as the National Kidney Foundation; general public members, such as ethicists and donor family members; and medical professional/scientific organizations, such as the American Society of Transplantation. 

Individuals from member organizations participate in the decision-making process through representation on committees and on the board of directors. 

What is the role of CMS and UNOS in transplant center and OPO oversight? 

There are three steps in oversight. As the OPTN, UNOS manages the first two – self reporting and peer review. UNOS provides data reports, tools and coaching to help members improve and avoid the third step, which is regulatory. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) provides regulatory oversight. 

What falls outside of UNOS’ purview? 

UNOS does not oversee member finances, determination of death, or decisions about what patients are listed or removed from the waiting list for transplantation.  

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Our mission is to unite and strengthen the donation and transplant community to save lives.

About UNOS 

UNOS is a non-profit, charitable organization that serves as the nation’s Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) under contract with the federal government. The OPTN helps create and define organ allocation and distribution policies that make the best use of donated organs. This process involves continuously evaluating new advances and discoveries so policies can be adapted to best serve patients waiting for transplants. All transplant programs and organ procurement organizations throughout the country are OPTN members and are obligated to follow the policies the OPTN creates for allocating organs. 

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