Organ Donor Registration Rates Nearly Double after On-Site Public Health Campaign at Driver’s Licensing Facilities

Point-of-decision materials without mass media offer effective, low-cost strategy, researchers say

Newswise — Washington, DC (April 10, 2012)- Amid a nationwide organ donor shortage, the state of Michigan has found a cost-effective way to increase its donor registry, by using only print promotional materials at driver’s licensing facilities rather than a multimedia campaign, a new study finds. The results appear online in the National Communication Association’s Journal of Applied Communication Research.

Placing behavior-prompting messages in selected Michigan Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) offices almost doubled donor registration rates at test sites, report the authors, led by Andy King, a doctoral candidate at Purdue University’s Brian Lamb School of Communication, West Lafayette, Ind.

“There continues to be a gap between Americans who state they are favorable to organ donation and those who are actually registered donors,” King said. “There are many reasons people decide not to be donors, but for many people the reason they are not designated donors is because they don’t know how to sign up or they don’t remember to declare their intent to be donors in situations when they could.”

Only about 40 percent of U.S. adults have registered to become organ and tissue donors, estimates Donate Life America of Richmond, Va. More than 113,000 Americans await organ transplants as of April, which is National Donate Life Month.

The new study aimed to offset a barrier to joining the Michigan Organ Donor Registry, King said. At the time of the study in fall 2009, DMV clerks in the state were not allowed to ask people if they wanted to join the registry. That policy changed in May 2011, the Michigan Secretary of State’s website reports.

King and his co-investigators tested the impact of an approach they called message immediacy. This approach uses behavioral message prompts and cues to action at physical sites where people are likely to act when they are favorable to the promoted action. The researchers selected DMV sites for the intervention because slightly more than 80 percent of the designated organ donors in Michigan registered at their local DMV offices, according to data from the Michigan Secretary of State’s office.

At DMV offices in 34 Michigan counties, the authors placed point-of-decision materials that included posters, stickers, and counter cards containing the main message “Tell us now that you want to be an organ donor!”

The “Tell Us Now” campaign, a collaboration with Gift of Life Michigan and the Michigan Secretary of State’s office, was implemented from fall 2009 until March 2010 among three groups of DMV sites. Some offices received the campaign materials beginning in October, some starting in November and the others beginning in December. The total population that the counties serve is about 20 percent of Michigan’s population, the authors calculate.

During the three- to six-month study period, organ donor registrations at test sites increased to 25,683, from 13,091 during the same months a year earlier, representing a 196 percent increase, King reported.

Estimated costs of the campaign were far lower per newly registered donor compared with prior donor registration campaigns in Michigan that used the same print materials plus additional components, including mass-media advertising and volunteer training. The authors calculated a per-registration cost of $1.34 for the Tell Us Now campaign versus about $12 to $15 for three past multicomponent campaigns.

“Our study adds to a growing body of evidence that DMV offices are effective campaign sites for increasing organ donor registration rates, and certain approaches within DMV offices—like message immediacy—¬may be more effective than the more costly, stand-alone mass media campaigns,” King said.

The article, “The ‘Tell Us Now’ Campaign for Organ Donation: Using Message Immediacy to Increase Donor Registration Rates,” will appear in the July 2012 print issue of the Journal of Applied Communication Research. Co-authors are Elizabeth Williams, Ph.D., of Colorado State University, Fort Collins; Tyler Harrison, Ph.D., and Susan Morgan, Ph.D., of Purdue University; and Tamara Havermahl, now with the Michigan Institute for Clinical & Health Research at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.


About the National Communication AssociationThe National Communication Association (NCA) advances communication as the discipline that studies all forms, modes, media and consequences of communication through humanistic, social scientific, and aesthetic inquiry. The NCA serves approximately 8,000 scholars, teachers, and practitioners who are its members by enabling and supporting their professional interests in research and teaching. Dedicated to fostering and promoting free and ethical communication, the NCA promotes the widespread appreciation of the importance of communication in public and private life, the application of competent communication to improve the quality of human life and relationships, and the use of knowledge about communication to solve human problems.

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