With the mass deployment of “blood trucks,” or mobile blood donation units, the American public may be under the impression that blood shortages are a thing of the past. While these mobile donation units are highly visible and come fully equipped to service blood donors, they have not succeeded in curbing blood shortages. Hospitals need to maintain supplies of three important components: red blood cells (what many blood donors are used to donating), platelets (which are highly perishable and help to cease bleeding), and blood plasma (which is the fluid that surrounds red blood cells). All of these blood products have different levels of perishability, which causes great difficulty for hospital administrators who try to maintain a steady supply in the face of uncertain demand.
Compounding the difficulty of storing these highly perishable blood products is the fact that US blood supplies are often at critical levels. A steady supply must be continuously secured, because if supply falls even for a short period of time, the products’ high perishability will produce a shortage down the line. Occasionally, blood shortages become so critical that major surgeries and other hospital procedures that require blood transfusions will halt entirely. For patients who need urgent surgery, this can mean the difference between life and death. Hospitals are then faced with a difficult choice: do they continue through the blood shortage, or do they spend money at unsustainable rates to purchase and transport blood from other supply banks?
Several options have been explored to reduce blood shortages, from more efficient transportation and storage to incentivizing donation. Historically, providing compensation for blood donors has created other problems such as limited funding sources for hospitals and a perception by the public that blood is a simple commodity rather than an essential component of lifesaving hospital procedures. Blood shortages have become so critical that paid donation is on the table again. Other options include “artificial blood“, which is being heavily financed by the US military to prevent blood shortages in active war zones. The emerging field of nanotechnology, in which scientists manipulate matter on an extremely small scale to change its properties, could prove essential to artificial blood and organ research.
Communities may also explore alternative incentives, such as public awareness campaigns and seminars on the importance of the blood supply. Other compensation, such as tax incentives or discounts on healthcare services, could bring in more blood donors without the negative effects of traditional compensation. In some jurisdictions mobile blood donation units now carry various nutritious foods, water, and fruit juice to help blood donors recuperate after the donation process. Hospitals may also be able to partner with local restaurants to bring in more donors while simultaneously providing local restaurateurs with guaranteed business.
Donate blood . Save a life.