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Dr. Martha Taylor, seen here in her Kitchener medical office on Monday, says that at 57 per cent, the number of doctors not registered as organ donors is too high.J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

Less than half of Ontario doctors have signed up to be organ donors, according to a new study that is believed to be the first to reveal actual registration rates among physicians.

The study found that just more than 43 per cent of doctors in Canada's largest province have registered their consent to donate, a figure that is still significantly higher than the 24-per-cent rate among the general public in Ontario.

Trillium Gift of Life Network, the organization that co-ordinates deceased donor transplants in Ontario, said the results should help dispel the nagging myth that doctors are less likely to pull out all the stops to save the lives of registered donors.

"We're pleased that physicians are leading from the front," said Amit Garg, a kidney specialist at London Health Sciences Centre and one of the authors of the paper, published Tuesday as a research letter in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association. "Hopefully the public can feel good about that and have confidence in our organ and tissue donation system, given that physicians themselves are registering."

But not all doctors were as enthusiastic about the finding that 57 per cent of doctors have not registered.

"Not that impressive, is it?" said Martha Taylor, a family physician in Kitchener, Ont., and registered donor. "I was pleased to see that it's higher than the general public, but I would challenge physicians across the country to double that."

The researchers cross-referenced a list of about 60 per cent of Ontario's doctors against the province's online organ donor database. The study did not track trends over time; rather, it produced a snapshot of the rates in May, 2013.

The study found the rates varied depending on a doctor's gender, age and specialty. Female doctors were more likely to be donors than their male counterparts, with 50 per cent of women having signed up and only 39.1 per cent of men. Doctors under the age of 39 boasted a 54-per-cent registration rate, much higher than the 27.2-per-cent among doctors over 70.

Physicians practising in emergency medicine and pediatrics were most likely to have registered. Rural doctors were more likely to have registered than urban doctors, and Canadian-educated doctors were more likely to have signed up than doctors trained outside the country.

The study was conducted by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, which is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

Ronnie Gavsie, the president and CEO of Trillium Gift of Life Network, said her organization regularly hears worries from potential donors that medical staff will not work as hard to save their lives if they have registered to donate.

"Clearly, physicians are not afraid of that. So the public need not be afraid of it," Ms. Gavsie said.

The demand for organs continues to outstrip supply in Canada. In 2012, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 15 people died waiting for a heart; 62 waiting for a liver; 69 waiting for lungs and 84 waiting for a kidney, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Given that, it is somewhat surprising that physicians are not rushing to register in greater numbers at Part of the problem could be that doctors share with the public the common misconception that signing a donor card and stuffing it in your wallet is as good as registering online.

"A lot of physicians are in full support," Dr. Garg said. "They just haven't taken the time, just like members of the general public, to register [online.] By putting this out there, we can also encourage physicians to take that one minute and register."

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