Transfusions decline by almost one-third over the last five years

Aug. 29, 2014

An article recently published in the New York Times reports a steep decline in the number of blood transfusions given annually in the United States, and examines the implications of this for American healthcare and the blood industry. Transfusions have fallen off from about 15 million units a half-decade ago to 11 million in 2013, according to the American Red Cross, and this has caused blood bank revenue to fall precipitously. It’s supply and demand; the former is high and the latter is low, and hospitals are asking for lower price-per-unit. Jobs are going away in the blood bank business, and industry analysts predict more of the same—perhaps up to 12,000 jobs in the next three to five years. The Red Cross, which controls 40% of the market, has shed 1,500 jobs.

The reason for the drop-off in transfusions is changes in medical practice, driven by revised professional guidelines. When it issue new guidelines for transfusions related to coronary bypass surgery in 2012, for instance, the Society of Thoracic Surgeons declared that post-surgical transfusions should be ordered only if a patient’s hemoglobin level falls to 7. Before then, doctors routinely ordered blood for patients whose hemoglobin fell to 10. Some doctors ordered transfusions for post-surgical patients as a matter of course.

The Times speculates that increasing computerization of medical records may be influencing doctors to adopt and adhere to new guidelines because, when the doctors start to order a transfusion online, their program will alert them when they depart from the standards. Insurance plans, which generally discourage transfusion, also are a contributing factor. Meanwhile, mergers and acquisitions are affecting the blood industry. Read more in theTimes report.