January marked National Blood Donor Month with somber news. The U.S. is facing the worst national blood shortage in over a decade. The American Red Cross reports a 10% decrease in blood and platelet donations since the start of the pandemic.1 Despite the continuing strain on health care caused by COVID-19, there still is a need to treat people who are in accidents, those who are seriously ill, and people with blood disorders like cancer. All types of blood are needed now. O positive, O negative, and platelets are especially needed.1
What else is causing this blood crisis?2 Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a 62% decrease in college and high school blood drives. Our students made up about a quarter of all blood donations in 2019. Since COVID-19, just 10% of blood donations are from students. On top of this, blood drives have been canceled because of illness, staffing shortages, and weather closures. COVID-19 surges have made the blood shortage situation even worse. The Red Cross, which supplies just under half of the nation’s blood supply, has had to limit blood to hospitals because of the crisis. This can impact the care you provide to those you serve.
How can you help get the message to your patients and community? Consider these key messages.
Relay critical information
You likely care for patients who have never considered being a blood donor. Or maybe some of your patients have previously donated, but it’s been awhile since their last donation. Explain the current blood crisis and talk to your patients about the nuts and bolts of blood donation. Feel free to adapt the following to your own practice’s needs.
#1 Teach about who can donate.
There are some general guidelines on who can donate.3 The Red Cross can help your patient learn more about these. A blood donor must:
- Be in good general health and feeling well. If your patient feels sick or has a fever on the day they are scheduled to donate, remind them to stay home.
- Be at least 17 years old in most states. In some states, a person can be 16 and donate with parental consent.
- Weigh at least 110 pounds. There are other requirements for those 18 years and younger and for all high school students.
- Not have donated blood in the last 56 days. This restriction doesn’t apply to platelets. The Red Cross will help determine if this applies to your patient.
#2 Explain what to expect on donation day.
Here is what your patients can expect when they show up to donate.4
- They will sign in at the donation center and they will be asked to show identification and read required information. Your patient may ask if they can bring a guest or children during donation. During the pandemic, the Red Cross does not allow guests, including children, to enter the blood center.5
- The Red Cross staff member will ask about medical history, and your patient will have a free health screening.3 This screening checks blood pressure, pulse, and hemoglobin level. Explain that the hemoglobin test is done by pricking their finger with a small needle. They may hear this called a “finger poke,” like if they’ve ever had your blood sugar test. Help them understand that hemoglobin is the protein in blood that carries iron and helps replace new red blood cells that are taken during donation. It’s important that the patient’s hemoglobin level be normal before the donation. If it is low, they may be asked to reschedule the donation. If the hemoglobin level is normal, they are cleared to donate. After the donation, the blood will be sent to the Red Cross’s outside labs for more testing before it’s cleared to be given to a recipient.
- Reassure your patient that donating blood isn’t a painful process. While they may have a fear of needles, the process is fast, and the Red Cross staff is skilled at making the experience comfortable.
- If your patient is donating whole blood, the process takes about 10 minutes. They will be seated comfortably or lying down.
- If they are donating platelets, the process is longer … about 2 hours. The staff will make sure they are comfortable during this time.
#3 Talk about what to do after donation.
- The Red Cross staff will review what to expect once your patient goes home. After the needle is removed, the patient will have a bandage on their arm. They will need to keep the bandage on and dry for the next 5 hours and to avoid heavy exercising or lifting.5 If the needle site starts to bleed, remind them to raise their arm straight up and to press on the needle site until the bleeding stops.
- Once they are done donating, they will get a snack and a drink. They will be monitored for about 15 minutes, and then they will be sent on their way.
- Remind them to schedule their next donation appointment before they leave the blood center. Your patient may have questions about how often they can donate. For whole blood donations, they must wait at least 8 weeks for another whole blood donation. Whole blood donors can donate up to 6 times a year. Platelet donors may donate every 7 days up to 24 times a year.5
- After their donation, remind your patient to stay hydrated. Generally, for patients who do not need to limit fluids, they will be encouraged to drink 4 glasses (8 ounces/glass) of non-alcoholic liquids.5 If your patient has fluid restrictions, explain if they can donate and how this applies to them.
- Because dizziness can sometimes happen, remind your patient to use caution and move slowly until they feel their strength returns. Avoid hazardous activities until their strength returns. If dizziness happens, your patient should stop what they are doing and lie down until they feel well enough to get up and resume activities.
- If your patient gets a bruise at their needle site, have them apply an ice pack for about 10 minutes a few times during the first 24 hours.5 Remind them to not put ice or the pack directly on their skin-cover the pack with a towel or apply over a layer of clothing. After 24 hours, they can apply a moist, warm compress for about 10 minutes several times a day until the bruise fades. They may notice a bruise that fades over about 10 days.
- Encourage them to share their experience with friends and family. Thank them for helping their community. Tell them about the pride and “feel-good” moment they will have knowing how they are helping others.
Krames has resources to help you get more information on ways to retain and acquire patients.
1 Patient acquisition and retention? Are they different? What is patient acquisition? How is it different than patient retention? Patient Gain Website. https://www.patientgain.com/patient-acquisition-vs-patient-retention. Accessed November 29, 2021.
2 Best Hospitals According to Patients & Health Care Providers. WebMD. https://doctor.webmd.com/choice-awards.Published January 4, 2021.Accessed November 29, 2021.
3 Gaughran KR. Retention vs acquisition: the power of patient relationships. Health care Success Blog. https://healthcaresuccess.com/blog/doctor-marketing/retention-vs-acquisition-the-power-of-patient-relationships.html. Published June 28, 2021. Accessed November 29, 2021.