Technologies to improve the future of blood banking

Oct. 1, 2011

The business of blood banking has become a complex balance of safety and efficiency. As they strive to protect patients' health and deliver safe blood and components to the right person at the right time, laboratories are under constant pressure to do more with less—including fewer skilled workers and scarcer financial resources. While technology has made many routine tasks easier to perform, the demand for blood continues to increase and the pace of processing blood for hospitals and healthcare providers continues to accelerate.

In developing responsive solutions for modern blood banking laboratories, instrument makers must actively listen and thoroughly understand the challenges lab managers face. Only by doing so can they provide safe, efficient solutions based on solid science. When instrument manufacturers find effective solutions, that can make an enormous difference for laboratories.

Automated processing: one solution for skills shortage

Over the past two decades, we've seen a continued shortage of highly skilled technologists and scientists entering the laboratory science workforce. This is especially true for blood banking and transfusion medicine laboratories in the U.S., which have the highest overall vacancy rate at more than 11 percent,1 according to a recent report from the American Society for Clinical Pathology. In fact, the same study found that for more than 20 percent of blood banking labs nationally, it can take more than one year to fill supervisor vacancies.1 A key contributing factor to this shrinking pool of lab professionals is age. Today, the average age of the laboratory workforce is about 50. Lack of visibility and unfamiliarity with the profession are other key factors preventing new workers from pursuing careers in laboratory science.1

As the labor force shrinks, the rapidly evolving field of laboratory medicine is struggling to keep pace with the growing demand for blood and its components. Automation is becoming a standard part of blood bank laboratories because it can help eliminate the labor-intensive, time-consuming manual testing processes that require specialized skills and significant experience to master. Ultimately, automated testing can increase the lab's capacity, allowing it to serve more patients and operate more efficiently, and the difference can be dramatic. A study from Ortho Clinical Diagnostics found that on average, one operator using the automated ORTHO ProVue® analyzer was able to perform the same serological testing previously performed by two technical staff members, while reducing the total processing time by 40 percent.2

Ensuring safety: priority number one

Significant progress has been made in blood safety during the past few decades3 and it continues to be the number-one priority for blood banks and hospitals worldwide. Screening blood and its components to ensure that they are free of infections, disease and parasites and compatible with the blood type, antigens and antibodies of the patient who needs the transfusion are the highest concern for any blood bank.

To meet rigorous compliance standards and provide blood and blood products that are safe, most blood banks are turning to standardization across instrument platforms and implementing new testing technologies like Column Agglutination (CAT), a serological standard in North America. These new testing methods are easier to use, and help reduce error and variation among technologists and tests because they provide stable and clear endpoints that are highly precise, while delivering objective, consistent results.

Optimizing performance: service solutions

To operate at peak performance, today's blood banks also need expert services and support that complement this new generation of technological solutions. To maximize a laboratory's productivity, there is a growing need for technologies that reduce the potential for instrument downtime and prevent workflow interruptions to ensure that instruments are available when needed. One tool that helps achieve these goals is Ortho's e-Connectivity™ service (availability of e-Connectivity is dependent on local registrations/approvals), which can provide a real-time, secure, two-way interactive connection between instruments and a technical support team. Using a mix of sophisticated predictive software and human operators, monitoring centers keep watch over the function of instruments, alerting lab managers when a problem might arise and scheduling maintenance visits during off-peak hours.

Protecting life: a shared commitment

As the science of blood and blood component management continues to change, laboratories need vendors who can support their evolving requirements. That means not only innovating next-generation systems that are intuitive, flexible and designed to be an extension of the laboratory's team, but also showing the science behind the technology—proving that a product lives up to its promises. New solutions must not only be produced, but backed up with evidence that gives blood bankers certainty about their results. Protecting the safety of the world's blood supply is a commitment from which any blood bank, and any company that serves and supports blood banks, must never waver.

Tony S. Casina, Ortho Clinical DiagnosticsTransfusion Medicine Marketing, has more than 30 years of experience in the blood banking industry, both in a commercial capacity and as a medical technologist in a hospital transfusion laboratory.


  1. Edna Garcia, et al. (2000). American Society for Clinical Pathology's 2011 vacancy survey of U.S. clinical laboratories. (2011) LabMedicine , 42, 199-206.
  2. Casina TS, Sorenson L, Fobare S, Transfusion 2002, 42 (suppl): 131S
  3. Sunny Dzik. (2002) Non-infectious serious hazards of transfusion,. Blood Bulletin, 5, 1.