As hospitals cut transfusions, blood banks suffer

Hospitals have found a way to save money by using technology and new medical techniques to cut down on pricey blood transfusions, but it has come at the expense of thousands of jobs in the blood banking sector, the New York Times reports.

Even as the population ages and traditionally requires more blood during surgeries, the American Red Cross reported that blood transfusions are down by one-third over the last five years, dropping from 15 million units in 2009 to about 11 million units today. Minimally invasive techniques such as laparoscopic surgery have reduced the need for blood, and some medical or surgical specialty societies have also reduced their guidelines for blood cell counts during and after some surgical procedures, according to the article.

Blood transfusions remain an expensive proposition for both hospitals and patients. Most hospitals pay between $225 and $240 for a single unit of blood, while patients or their insurers may be charged $1,000 or more. Meanwhile, insurers try to discourage the practice of blood transfusions, with Medicaid paying a flat fee for the procedure, according to the Times. As a result, some hospitals attempt to negotiate lower per-unit prices for blood.

By focusing on techniques that reduce blood transfusions, hospitals also discovered there are collateral financial benefits. Somes rates of hospital-acquired infections drop by using fewer blood transfusions by more than 30 percent, according to recent research by the University of Michigan and University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. Each infection can cost $50,000 or more to treat.

An aggressive blood conservation approach by the Advocate Health Care system in Illinois saved about $8.5 million and reduced patient stays by more than 24,000 days in less than three years time.

Meanwhile, blood bank revenue has dropped as much as 70 percent over the last decade, from $5 billion a year to $1.5 billion a year. The American Red Cross predicted that as many as 12,000 jobs will be shed over the next three to five years, and many regional blood banks merged, according to the Times.

To learn more:
- read the New York Times article