Liver allocation is based on current Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) scores, with priority in the case of a tie being given to those waiting the longest with a given MELD score. We hypothesized that this priority might not reflect risk: registrants whose MELD score has recently increased receive lower priority but might have higher wait-list mortality. We studied wait-list and posttransplant mortality in 69,643 adult registrants from 2002 to 2013. By likelihood maximization, we empirically defined a MELD spike as a MELD increase ≥ 30% over the previous 7 days. At any given time, only 0.6% of wait-list patients experienced a spike; however, these patients accounted for 25% of all wait-list deaths. Registrants who reached a given MELD score after a spike had higher wait-list mortality in the ensuing 7 days than those with the same resulting MELD score who did not spike, but they had no difference in posttransplant mortality. The spike-associated wait-list mortality increase was highest for registrants with medium MELD scores: specifically, 2.3-fold higher (spike versus no spike) for a MELD score of 10, 4.0-fold higher for a MELD score of 20, and 2.5-fold higher for a MELD score of 30. A model incorporating the MELD score and spikes predicted wait-list mortality risk much better than a model incorporating only the MELD score. Registrants with a sudden MELD increase have a higher risk of short-term wait-list mortality than is indicated by their current MELD score but have no increased risk of posttransplant mortality; allocation policy should be adjusted accordingly.
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