Due to a variety of factors, blood shortages are extremely common in the United States. Several of blood’s useful components (blood plasma, blood platelets, and red blood cells) have different levels of perishability, meaning that they remain viable for blood transfusions for differing amounts of time. This forces hospital administrators to coordinate efforts in order to secure a steady blood supply despite uneven patient demand. Injuries and illnesses within a given municipality will naturally fluctuate, so hospital administrators must compensate by organizing blood exchanges or purchases from other municipal hospitals, blood donation facilities, or private charities.
While blood perishability is an extraordinarily important facet of the blood donation process, it is not the only focus for hospital administrators. Any donations must also be certified through a series of blood pathogen tests as safe for use in blood transfusions (a procedure in which viable blood is transferred from a donor to a recipient, generally after physical trauma or during the course of an illness). At the beginning of the blood donation process, blood donors are also asked a series of questions meant to weed-out high risk donors, such as drug users as well as those who have been provided compensation in exchange for sexual services. The rationale here is that these individuals are significantly more likely to have exposed themselves to blood pathogens and sexually transmitted diseases. A well-crafted survey questionnaire can serve as a first line of defense against high-risk blood donors.
Even during critical blood shortages high-risk blood does not make it into national circulation. Large organizations like the American Red Cross have an established system of collection, testing, screening, and distribution to ensure that both new blood donors and transfusion recipients need not worry about receiving new blood pathogens via the blood donation process. First, after registration and an introductory physical exam, both the donor’s sample test tubes and donor registration form are labeled with matching bar codes in order to track the donated blood through the screening process. After the blood is collected, it is scanned into a computer database. Using centrifuges, medical technicians then separate the blood into its constituent parts (the aforementioned blood platelets, blood plasma, and red blood cells). This enables patients to receive differing amounts of the various blood components as required.
While the blood is being processed for potential use, the test tubes have simultaneously been sent to one of the American Red Cross’s testing centers. Several tests are used to establish the donor’s blood type in addition to determining if any blood pathogens are present. If pathogens are found, the blood is discarded and the donor is confidentially notified. If the tests determine the blood is suitable for use, it can then be stored and distributed as needed.