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New standards urged on blood transfusions

Associated Press / June 28, 2011

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WASHINGTON — Check into the hospital and you may get a blood transfusion you did not really need.

There is variation nationally in how quickly doctors order transfusions, not in cases of trauma or hemorrhage — where infusing blood can be life-saving — but for other reasons.

Anemia is common in older patients, for example, who may get a transfusion as an easy boost instead of treating the underlying problem. Need open-heart surgery? There are steps surgeons could take to minimize blood loss instead of trying to replace it later.

Now a government advisory committee is calling for national standards on when a transfusion is needed — and how to conserve this precious resource.

All the variability shows “there is both excessive and inappropriate use of blood transfusions in the US,’’ advisers to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently said. “Improvements in rational use of blood have lagged.’’

Blood banks welcome the idea, as they try to balance how to keep just enough blood on the shelves without it going bad.

“Better patient care is what’s being advocated here,’’ said Dr. Richard Benjamin, American Red Cross chief medical officer. “If a transfusion is not necessary, all you can do is harm.’’