HealthTrust is helping to fill the gap in the U.S. blood supply shortage

There are very few products in HealthTrust’s contract portfolio that aren’t produced by a manufacturer. One of those is human blood. And blood products, which include red blood cells, plasma and platelets, are facing a shortfall that has been deemed a crisis by the American Red Cross. In January 2022, the organization declared it the worst blood shortage in more than a decade.

Joseph Dickson

HealthTrust has been challenged to develop workarounds to help member facilities fill the gap. “It’s been a great teaching moment for us,” says Joseph Dickson, AVP, Purchased Services & Diversity Contracting, HealthTrust. “There’s no manufacturer who can go and make more blood. If donations aren’t there, supply isn’t there, and then pricing and value aren’t there.”

Calling on the people

Blood, a vital component of patient care, relies entirely on individual donors to fill up blood banks all over the United States.

Lucy Madura

But since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people donating blood dropped 10%, and new donors decreased 34% in 2021, according to the American Red Cross. “All of our suppliers are in the same position. If people aren’t donating, there’s just no blood out there,” explains Lucy Madura, Senior Manager of Contracts, HealthTrust. “On top of that, there are labor and staffing shortages at blood banks, and the cost of PPE [personal protective equipment] and other materials is also taking a toll.”

The struggle continues even as the pandemic wanes, especially at workplaces and campuses that used to be the backbone of blood drives. “Even now, with workplaces staying hybrid or remote, it’s limiting collections,” Madura says. “It’s the same at college campuses. Any settings where these drives have typically been hosted just aren’t back to normal.”

Dickson agrees and adds, “The idea of sitting in a large room and donating blood for a half-hour is still met with some hesitancy.”

A robust response

Despite a significant drop in the use of blood products nationally since 2008—due, in part, to better blood conservation efforts and patient blood management programs in hospitals—the Red Cross estimates that nearly 29,000 units of red blood cells are still needed each day. Demand is also fueled by the resumption of elective surgeries after the pandemic’s early months, along with everyday treatment of traumatic injuries, certain cancers, hemorrhage, anemia and other conditions.

Jennifer Werthman, Ph.D., MBA, RN, NE-BC

Part of HealthTrust’s response has been to maintain frequent communication with its three blood suppliers to maintain awareness of the current blood supply. “Healthcare systems across the country are panicked by this shortage, and they are all trying to tap into secondary resources,” Madura says. “Our suppliers have been very transparent about the situation. All three have been great about communicating to us when their levels are critically low, and they have tapped into other blood banks across the country to make sure our members’ needs have been fulfilled.”

Additionally, HealthTrust has developed a Clinical Evidence Summary as a reference for members to reinforce blood conservation strategies. It also points to additional resources, according to Jennifer Werthman, Ph.D., MBA, RN, NE-BC, Director, Clinical Services, HealthTrust.

The document includes patient blood management tactics to optimize transfusion practices, educating clinicians to ensure a standardized approach and urging them to consider the entire clinical picture when making transfusion-related decisions.

“Implementing a blood management program helps to manage the blood supply and ensures there’s appropriate communication with internal blood banks,” Werthman says. “It means you have a system to assess your stock of blood and understand utilization within the facility while always assessing the patients’ needs.”

What members can do

To help promote blood conservation efforts, HealthTrust’s blood product suppliers have offered to perform assessments for members. “The assessments can help make sure the member has the most efficient blood supply to their facilities and that they have no waste from expired products,” Dickson says. “This isn’t like a glove that can sit on a shelf for a year before it’s opened. If blood expires, it’s a tremendous disappointment because there may be another facility that could have used it.”

HealthTrust members can help solve the blood shortage locally by coordinating blood drives. Madura was impressed by an event held in Boise, Idaho, by two competing healthcare systems, which hosted a “friendly competition” to determine which organization could collect more blood.

“That’s an innovative solution,” she says. “It was a great way to get the message out and get the community engaged. The end result is only going to benefit everyone.”

Dickson adds, “We’ve made it a point to remind people to donate. It may not help us from a cost-savings perspective, but it’s just the right thing to do.”

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