Despite blood collections decreasing by about 75 percent this spring, hospitals have had access to ample supply and have avoided a shortage of blood products while treating COVID-19 patients.
With the conversation now shifting to resuming elective surgeries, however, a national survey of blood centers indicates blood supply needs will increase by as much as 50 percent to accommodate the resumption of elective procedures and other suspended inpatient and outpatient service lines. Close partnerships between blood centers and hospitals will be central to managing through the combination of elective procedures coming back online and ongoing COVID-19 cases – in some instances, in geographies that have yet to experience a surge in hospitalizations.
Premier and Bloodbuy, an affiliate that leverages cloud-based technologies to facilitate the efficient distribution of lifesaving blood products across the nation, conducted the nationwide survey of regional blood centers the week of April 20, 2020, to assess the impact of canceled blood drives and altered utilization patterns, in connection with public health measures taken to contain the spread of COVID-19.
While COVID-19 strained the availability of supplies beginning in February, the supply of blood products remained strong.
In the survey, many blood centers noted a 50 percent decrease in blood drives in March and a 75 percent drop-off in April. Approximately 25 to 30 percent of the nation’s blood supply is traditionally collected via high school and university blood drives, which are typically scheduled months in advance. The conventional summer dip in supply came on two months early, in effect, with schools forced to close their campuses.
Fortunately, the decrease in collections roughly matched the decrease in utilization over the same time period. Blood centers indicate that with elective procedures canceled, hospitals’ blood supply needs dropped by 40 to 50 percent, meaning hospitals were able to easily allocate blood while treating COVID-19 patients.
When elective procedures are reintroduced, however, blood needs will likely swell as much as 50 percent to compensate for this deficit. Most blood centers surveyed indicated resuming targeted blood collection operations, in at least some material capacity, in May.
Four Considerations for Elective Procedures Coming Back Online
Hospitals and blood centers will need to coordinate in four ways to ensure an adequate response to increased blood needs, according to survey respondents.
- Aligning on elective surgery timing: The most important factor over the next few months will involve healthcare providers and blood centers having a clear understanding of hospitals’ plans for elective surgery increases.
“We can work together by devising a plan based on regional anticipation of restarting elective surgeries and begin collecting products to meet local and national demand,” one survey respondent said.
- Promoting the need for blood donation and coordinating on blood drives: Hospitals and blood centers will need to coordinate on blood drives and related timing so that blood centers can appropriately publicize the need for donations, communicate effectively with donors, and schedule appointments.
“In the current environment, the majority of blood centers have anywhere from 10 to 28 days of available inventory on hand,” one respondent said. “In our current region, we are anticipating collecting at larger venues that will bring out more donors that will supplement our high school/university closures.”
- Limiting the inventory on hand: Hospitals and blood centers should partner on the par levels hospitals keep on their shelves. Given these unprecedented circumstances, it may be unsustainable for hospitals to carry more than three days’ inventory on their shelves, as that could place a strain on availability and short another hospital in the region.
- Updating stakeholders on changes in clinical guidance: Blood centers will look to hospitals to share information about any alterations in transfusion guidelines in the event they have been modified during the COVID-19 response, so blood centers are aware of any potential changes to utilization patterns going forward.
COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma as a Potentially Lifesaving Intervention
In response to the pandemic, one of the most critical types of lifesaving products that blood centers are aiming to collect is COVID-19 convalescent plasma, or the blood plasma of individuals who have fully recovered from COVID-19. Recovered patients are believed to have antibodies in their plasma that can attack the virus, thereby making their plasma central to the treatment of patients with life-threatening COVID-19 infections.
Blood centers have already begun manufacturing and distributing convalescent plasma, noting that the ability to ramp-up convalescent plasma collection in existing hotspots, in particular, has been key to helping patients nationwide. As of April 20, for example, New York Blood Center Enterprises, which operates blood centers in the Northeast and Midwest, notes it had distributed more than 75 percent of the convalescent plasma to hospitals across the country.
Blood centers are aiming to continue producing these potentially lifesaving products as long as they are needed. Some indicate they are also working on the second-generation products, serology testing and vaccine development as well.
Unwavering Support and Partnership
During and beyond COVID-19, Premier continues to act as a trusted connection point across the industry. Access our COVID-19 resources and tools.