This is an excerpt from Medically Necessary, a health care supply chain newsletter. Subscribe here.
The problem: The nation’s blood supply is running dangerously low. Last week, the American Red Cross blamed the shortage on higher demand due to an increase in elective surgeries and visits to trauma centers.
The Red Cross reports that in recent weeks the U.S. only had a half-day supply of type O blood, the most common type used by hospitals.
Now, the Red Cross, along with the blood collection organizations AABB and America’s Blood Centers, is urgently asking people to donate blood if they can.
“The majority of hospitals have resumed nonessential surgeries and patients throughout the U.S. are resuming treatment options that include the use of blood and blood components that were postponed during the past year,” the organizations said in a joint statement.
The supply: America’s Blood Centers reports that more than 65% of its community blood centers have zero to two days’ worth of blood.
The group purchasing organization Vizient told Modern Healthcare that the price of type O blood has increased by about 30% over the last year.
“This is the worst I have seen it in my 47 years in this business,” Akiva Faerber, a senior principal at Vizient, told Modern Healthcare.
The trend: As the number of COVID-19 cases drops in many parts of the U.S., some aspects of health care are returning to more normal levels.
Elective procedures have reached 80% of pre-pandemic levels, according to a May report from IQVIA. Cardinal Health CEO Mike Kaufmann recently told investors that demand for surgical products hit 95% in March and could reach pre-pandemic levels soon.
In addition, the Red Cross reports that hospitals are also seeing an increase in the number of trauma visits, which often require blood products.
The number of visits to hospitals with trauma centers has increased by 10% this year compared to 2019. The Red Cross has delivered about 75,000 more blood products than expected, President Chris Hrouda said in a statement.
The Red Cross didn’t specify what was driving the increase in trauma visits. A community coordinator at a blood bank in Texas told The New York Times that it could be due to a larger number of people driving The National Safety Council found that deaths from car accidents have increased from 2019 to 2021.
The backstory: The U.S. also experienced shortages of blood in 2020, but that was largely due to a huge drop in donations rather than increased demand.
Within the first few weeks of the virus’ arrival in the U.S., more than 2,700 blood drives were canceled. Blood donations fluctuated throughout 2020 in response to COVID-19 case numbers, but mostly remained low. The Red Cross warned about low blood supplies in May and October.
In addition to blood drives canceled due to COVID-19, wildfires, hurricanes and other storms also led to fewer donations in 2020.
What’s next? Hrouda warned that a shortage of blood could slow down the health care industry’s return to normal.
“Some hospitals are being forced to slow the pace of elective surgeries until the blood supply stabilizes, delaying crucial patient care,” he said, according to a statement.