Blood transfusion alerts could improve hospitals

Jasper Johnson

New studies suggest that blood transfusions are one of medicine’s most overused treatments. This may come as a surprise, as many people, myself included, had been convinced that there is a seemingly perpetual shortage of transfusions. 
 
Yet there is now a compelling case for hospitals to scale back their use of blood transfusions.  A hospital in California did so with remarkable success, and it seems to me that Minnesota hospitals should follow suit.
 
Though they can save lives in some cases, blood transfusions in more mild cases can cause unnecessary distress on the immune system. 
 
Doctors and surgeons often witness the lifesaving potential of transfusions firsthand in extreme cases. Sometimes they become needle-happy even though some
patients would be better off without a transfusion.
 
The California facility, Stanford Hospital and Clinics, took a unique approach to combat these unnecessary transfusions. Whenever blood was requested via their computerized system, an alert would pop up if the patient’s most recent lab results indicated they would be fine without a transfusion. This simple reminder led to a drop in red blood cell transfusions, saving over $1.6 million, and patient outcomes improved.
 
There is a clear problem with the overuse of transfusions, and for the sake of both hospitals and patients, more needs to be done to combat this issue. Procedural updates are necessary to overcome this ingrained notion that more blood is always better. 
 
Minnesota hospitals should seriously consider addressing overuse by implementing computerized blood transfusion guideline reminder systems like those in Stanford Hospital and Clinics.