Severe national blood shortage may lead to 'suboptimal care'

Amid a severe national blood shortage, some physicians are reserving blood for the most critical patients, ABC News reported June 20. 

An influx in patients with traumatic injuries linked to violent crime, coupled with a backlog of rescheduled elective surgeries that were postponed during earlier stages of the COVID-19 pandemic have intensified the shortage. 

"From personal experience, as someone who has worked in the transfusion medicine field for many years, the current situation with the blood supply is the most concerning I have seen in my career," Claudia Cohn, MD, PhD, chief medical officer of the American Association of Blood Banks, told ABC

Across hospitals with trauma centers, blood demand has risen 10 percent compared to 2019, according to Red Cross data cited by ABC News. In other facilities that offer transfusions, demand has jumped by more than five times.

"When blood supply is less than adequate, patients may be affected," Dr. Cohn said. "It means blood may not be available for all patients when it is needed, leading to suboptimal care for some patients." 

The shortages already are leading some hospitals to prioritize which patients are in most critical need. 

"We're screening based on criteria that has kicked in because now we're in a critical situation with all of our products," Xiomara Fernandez, MD, medical director of transfusion medicine and coagulation at George Washington University Hospital in D.C., told the news outlet. "Any orders that don't meet our thresholds, so if anyone has a platelet count above 50 [and a platelet transfusion is ordered], that is definitely a red flag."

Some hospitals in the New England region have also delayed surgeries because of the shortage. 

"We haven't seen anything like this in about 30 or 40 years at least," Vishesh Chhibber, MD, director of transfusion medicine at UMass Memorial Health in Worcester, Mass., told The Boston Globe. There, the blood shortage caused several surgeries set for June 7 to be delayed. 

If the shortage persists throughout the summer, experts worry more elective surgeries may have to be canceled, and blood transfusions for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy may need to be rescheduled. 

"Blood is a critical, lifesaving therapy for millions of patients throughout the world — and the only source of blood is the generosity of donors," Dr. Cohn said. "We have a long summer ahead of us and making sure the blood supply is adequate beyond this week or next is [a] challenge." 


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