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Both have been careful to maintain their efficiency — only 1 to 2 percent of the red blood units they collect go to waste because they aren’t used in the prescribed time frame of 42 days.
They also have maintained a typical three- to five-day supply of blood for the hospitals they serve, which is important given the potential for unexpected trauma or emergencies.
A Memorial spokeswoman said Children’s Hospital in St. Paul recently needed 100 red blood units for one surgery. And while the Red Cross saw its collection of red blood decline 6 percent from 2009 to 2012, it still needs around 675 units every day to meet hospitals’ needs.
In addition to eliminating transfusions, hospitals are simply using less blood per transfusion. The savings have been significant. While blood is donated, the need to test it for infectious agents and ship it to hospitals brings the price to $200 to $300 per unit.
The standard for years had been that patients needed two units of blood for transfusions to be effective, but that was based largely on flawed logic, Anthony said.
If donors suffered no ill effects when giving a single unit of blood, then doctors reasoned that recipients needed at least two units to gain any benefit. Studies have since proved that single-unit transfusions are equally effective in many cases — and safer.
The slogan “Why Give 2 When 1 Will Do” now appears on posters in hospitals throughout the metro area.
Pathologists in local hospitals have gone beyond the usual lectures, posters and memos to get the message across. At Allina, the change occurred with the help of a parody “Blood Police” DVD, in which a fictional blood cop pulls over a doctor and nurse for ordering an unnecessary transfusion.
“I’m sorry. I’m going to have to cite you for ordering a transfusion without a clinical assessment,” said the blood cop, played by Dr. Dirck Rilla, a perfusionist whose day job is to keep patients’ blood flowing during open-heart surgeries.
Dr. Kathrine Frey believes she has become a real-life blood cop to doctors and nurses at Fairview Southdale Hospital, where efforts she led reduced blood usage by about 3,000 units per year.
“If I look at them funny, they say, ‘I didn’t do it! I didn’t transfuse that patient,’ ” the pathologist said.
Frey demonstrated the need for reducing transfusions at Southdale by creating “blood mountain,” a stack of cardboard boxes that approximated the red blood units used unnecessarily each year.
“This has been the most joyful, rewarding work I have ever done,” Frey said, “because you can really see the difference. You bring the blood units down, you know the patients are safer and you save the hospital significant money.”
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744