Unprecedented access to a database of Ontario organ donors is dramatically changing the way hospitals are getting life-saving donations to desperately ill people, says the head of the province’s organ and tissue donation agency.

While donation consent has been captured through the province’s health insurance program — OHIP — since 1995, it wasn’t until November that the Trillium Gift of Life Network gained real-time access to that valuable information.

“Before, even though people registered their wishes with OHIP, the only way we would know about it is if someone in the hospital or a family member came upon the (health) card while going through the person’s wallet,” said CEO and president Frank Markel. “Now, when someone goes into hospital and they’re a potential donor, we get their OHIP number from the hospital staff. We then call OHIP and they tell us whether the person has registered their wishes to be a donor or not.”

An overwhelming need also saw changes made in December to the way the province asks residents if they want to become donors. It’s called affirmative registration, and the hope is that it will see more people agree to be donors. The current consent rate in Ontario is 12.5 per cent. In Nova Scotia, where affirmative consent has been the standing policy, 44.3 per cent of eligible residents are on the list.