A stem cell transplant is a miracle of modern medicine.

Also known as a bone marrow transplant, it effectively transplants the immune system of one person into another and, every year, it is a lifesaving procedure for around 300 Australians who are battling leukaemia and other blood and immune diseases and disorders.

Crucial to the success of a patient’s transplant, however, is finding a donor with a close human leukocyte antigen (HLA) match. A close HLA match minimises the risk that a patient’s body will react badly to the transplant and potentially attack or reject the donated cells.

There’s a one in four chance that a sibling could be a match for a patient, otherwise a complete stranger becomes their only hope, sparking a national and global search.

A lifesaving network

That’s where organisations like the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry (ABMDR) come in.

Known to donors as Strength to Give, ABMDR helps Australians and international patients needing a stem cell transplant by searching the world for suitably matched donors and – once found – facilitating the donation and transplant.

Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry logo

The Australian registry, which is one of 140 globally, was established in 1991 as the science of stem cell transplants emerged, and it now has over 178,000 potential donors. Donors are ideally recruited between ages 18 and 35 and can remain on the registry until 60, creating relationships that can span decades.

And the strength of those relationships can mean the difference between life and death.

Unlike blood donors who are regularly called up to donate, someone on the ABMDR may never get the call, but if they do, it means they’ve been identified to save a life – like a lifesaving needle in a haystack.

And the likelihood a donor will say ‘yes’ to donating often depends on non-medical factors, including having their current contact details on file, being in recent contact with the registry and having made a recent recommitment to being a donor.

Platform with a purpose

Until recently, maintaining regular contact with ABMDR’s thousands of donors hadn’t been possible due to its legacy systems, says ABMDR CIO Ian Brennan. This included a donor database that was a medical system, which wasn’t built for donor outreach.

So, when the organisation decided to move 100% into the cloud around three years ago, it also created a roadmap to modernise its systems and processes with support from Datacom.

This included a migration of all their on-premise servers into Microsoft Azure and selecting Microsoft Dynamics 365 as the platform for its new donor management system, which went live last August [2021].

Transferring donor information to the new system allowed ABMDR to finally begin regular donor outreach. The registry then began building its first major feature on the platform, called Verification Typing, to systemise, automate and streamline one of its most important processes.

Beginning when someone on the register is identified as a potential match – that lifesaving needle in a haystack – Verification Typing involves confirming the donor is still willing and able to donate, that their HLA data is accurate, and they need to undertake a medical check.

Working with Datacom, ABMDR built out a stepped journey on the platform, covering the entire process and automating everything from data integration between medical systems, to generating emails, to workflow.

“This process used to be done manually, involving transposing documents, cutting and pasting into emails, and waiting for emails to be returned from addresses that sometimes didn’t work,” says Ian. “We’ve calculated this process is now 50% more efficient.”

Crucially, Verification Typing now takes less time – typically around two weeks.

“Particularly for overseas patients, whose donor search can begin later in their treatment journey, this is probably the difference between getting a successful transplant or not.”

Streamlining donor registration and communication

Other key processes have since been automated and streamlined via the system, including the process for keeping in touch annually with donors who facilitated a successful transplant and monitoring their health outcomes for up to a decade.

As well as being a powerful outreach tool, another advantage of Microsoft Dynamics 365, says Ian, is it fits into ABMDR’s wider ecosystem and tech stack which includes M365 and Azure services.

“Our holistic move into the cloud has been key to digital transformation and fundamentally enabled the innovation and improvements to our donor management processes,” says Ian.

“Datacom played a pivotal role in helping us on that journey, providing expert advice on Azure and Microsoft licensing through to specialist Dynamics 365 implementation services that were right sized for our requirements and budget.”

Every year, 7000 new donors are recruited onto the registry, primarily via a partnership with Australian Red Cross Lifeblood (Lifeblood®). This year ABMDR introduced a new streamlined online registration system, based on Power Apps, which is natively part of the common Dataverse [database] that underpins Microsoft Dynamics 365 and the entire Power Platform.

Previously paper-based, the new process is now entirely electronic and automated, allowing recruits to enrol via their mobile phone using a QR code while giving blood at Lifeblood. Those who start the process but don’t quite complete it can now be contacted via email to encourage completion of their enrolment while it is still front of mind.

Better patient outcomes

ABMDR CEO Lisa Smith says the improved systems are providing a foundation for better engagement with their donors, which supports better outcomes for patients.

“Developing our capability to improve engagement with our donor community has enabled us to quickly contact donors when they are identified as potential matches for patients with blood cancer. It also helps us build and maintain an active community of engaged donors and to share successes within the community.”

Making the enrolment process more accessible and enabling proactive follow-up with potential donors is especially important as ABMDR looks to grow the diversity of its donor database. Australia is a growing multicultural country, so it is vital the pool of potential donors is also ethnically diverse to increase the likelihood of finding a match and reduce reliance on overseas donations.

“Now we can engage with donors from the outset and start building and maintaining that awareness of the ABMDR, our mission and the lifesaving help they can give if they are asked to donate,” says Ian. “If the day comes and they’re selected as a donor they’re more likely to say yes – and that’s a better patient outcome.”

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