Overusing blood transfusions increases risks, costs

As the industry tries to curb excessive care, new research in the journal Anesthesiology found that surgeons overuse blood transfusions to patients who do not need additional blood, upping healthcare costs and unnecessarily risking patient safety.

Patients can suffer negative consequences from receiving transfused blood, such as immune suppression, increased infection risks and even cancer recurrence, according to a statement last week from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.  

In addition to safety issues, misusing blood transfusions drives up unnecessary expenditures. It costs $278 dollars to purchase a unit of blood from the American Red Cross, and up to $1,100 when accounting for buying, testing, storing and transporting the blood.

"It's a scarce, valuable resource that's always in demand, and it's expensive. We could do a better job conserving that resource," lead study author Steven M. Frank said in a Palm Beach Daily News article.

The study also noted that general guidelines governing when a surgical patient should receive a transfusion remain unclear. "They say that if a patient's hemoglobin level is less than 7 g/dl [grams per deciliter], then the patient would benefit from a blood transfusion. But if it's greater than 10, they would not benefit. But they don't say what should be done if the level is between 7 and 10," Frank told HealthLeaders Media.

Reinforcing the study findings, last year, Bon Secours Health System found that giving fewer blood transfusions during heart surgeries successfully cut costs and unnecessary care. New blood transfusion guidelines saved the Maryland health system $1.1 million over three years, while reducing complication rate and length of stay.

For more information:
- here's the study abstract
- check out the Hopkins statement
- read Palm Beach Daily News article
- here's the HealthLeaders article