Financial Leadership

Martin Bluth: Blood donation — Why it should be on healthcare finance leaders’ radar

November 30, 2021 3:49 pm
Martin H. Bluth, MD, PhD

Having a steady supply of blood donations is among the most critical lifesaving needs for hospitals and health systems. And donating blood is one way for citizens to feel a direct connection with our healthcare system. That’s two reasons blood-related issues should be topof-mind for hospital and health system finance leaders.

I remember the first time I donated blood. I was 17 years-old, and it was for my friend’s uncle, who I did not know. I was asked to donate blood by my friend’s mother, who I revered for her wit and her Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (AKA Black Forest cake). I was told that my blood donation would be a “gift of life” to help save this person from a dire disease. I donated and afterward felt good that I did such a good thing with minimal effort. 

Fast forward 35 years later. Now I am a chief of transfusion medicine for a hospital, which includes a blood donation service, and I continue to donate blood. Today, however, in addition to feeling good that I am saving a life, I also know what the blood I donate does to help others and how donating blood benefits all of us as people.

The ubiquitous need for blood

Blood is needed for all manner of patient care — from traumas including motor vehicle accidents to obstetrical hemorrhage to hematological conditions, such as leukemias, and more. I have rarely met anyone who does not have a family member or friend who underwent a blood transfusion. That pervasiveness of experience makes it clear why the need for blood is paramount.

What I did not know when I first donated was how much blood is needed in such situations. I also had no idea that collected blood does not store for long. Unlike medications such as ibuprofen, which have a shelf life of years, some blood products last only days (e.g., five to seven for platelets and 35 to 42 for red blood cells). 

Also, unlike pills, which are pressed to yield millions of bottles, blood products need to be continuously obtained from people like you and me for patients whose lives depend on them. And when donations decline, as has occurred during COVID-19, the result is severe shortages of blood products that threaten the ability to save lives.

Benefits to the donor

Provider organizations can play an important role in raising awareness of the importance of donating blood and how it can benefit even donors. Aside from creating an opportunity to receive a free health screening, which can reveal potential health concerns, donating blood can help lower blood pressure and the risk for heart attacks. It can stimulate red blood cell production, lower iron stores, reduce cancer risk, improve liver health, lower cholesterol, improve insulin sensitivity, lengthen donors’ lifespans and improve their mental wellbeing.a

In addition to all these benefits, the feeling someone can get from helping a stranger in need is indescribable. You can save a life with minimal effort — whether you are 17 or 52 — simply by committing about 15 minutes of your time. Where else can such a small investment yield such a great return? 

4 reasons CFOs should care about blood donation

All these considerations reinforce why it is important for healthcare finance leaders to support efforts to increase blood giving in their communities. Finance leaders should view such efforts through the following four lenses.

  1. Promoting blood drives helps to reinforce healthcare’s positive social aspects — giving, helping and goodwill. These feelings help to offset the fears of morbidity and mortality that often pervade the halls of healthcare entities.
  2. Blood donation creates an opportunity — in a relaxed congenial atmosphere — for hospitals to engage in community outreach by making patients aware of educational opportunities and other beneficial initiatives. Personally, I enjoy my time donating blood. I get to speak with other donors and witness their emotional uplift from knowing their donation will save a life.
  3. Blood drives can provide community growth opportunities and strengthen common ground if the outreach is tailored to different societal sectors, including religious, educational, political, advocacy and other groups.
  4. By effectively managing blood inventories, hospitals and health systems can help reduce healthcare spending. For example, a hospital can create a liaison with a blood center to provide appropriate blood product inventory from nearby sources rather than having blood shipped from remote locations. Often, blood centers can provide in-kind cost reduction to a healthcare facility that sponsors a blood drive providing additional cost containment.b

Beyond these four lenses, finance leaders should recognize an intangible benefit of blood donation: It reinforces the donor’s allegiance to the affiliated healthcare facility.

A benefit for all

Blood remains a necessary staple to keep people with blood-requiring diseases alive. Blood donation also unifies all of us with the same ability to save a life. The surgeon and the carpenter, the anesthesiologist and the flight attendant, the cardiologist and the librarian, me and you. We give of ourselves for a few minutes, provide a benefit to our health and save another human being. There is nothing simpler, more beautiful nor more human.

In fact, finance leaders can do something even more immediately valuable than promoting the benefits of becoming a blood donor. They can also be donors themselves.


a. NewYork Presbyterian, “The surprising benefits ofdonating blood,” Health Matters, Page accessed, Nov. 1, 2021; Flavin, B., “6 surprising health benefits of donating blood,” Rasmussen University, Feb. 1, 2018; BRMS, “Health benefits of donating blood,” Jan. 2, 2018; Uche, E., et al., “Lipid profile of regular blood donors,” Journal of Blood Medicine, May 10, 2013.

b. Upstate Medical University, “Blood donations help reduce hospital costs for blood products,” Sept. 23, 2013. 

Salient facts about blood needs

  • Every 2 seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood and or platelets.
  • About 36,000 units of red blood cells, 7,000 units of platelets and 10,000 units of plasma are needed every day in the United States.
  • Nearly 21 million blood components are transfused each year in the United States.
  • The average red blood cell transfusion is about 3 units.
  • A single car-accident victim can require as many as 100 units of blood.
  • Blood and platelets cannot be manufactured; they can come only from volunteer donors.
  • One donation can potentially save up to three lives.
  • Although 38% of the American population is eligible to donate blood, only 2% actually donates.

Sources: American Red Cross, “Importance of the blood supply,” U.S. blood supply facts, 2021; and Cedars Sinai, “Facts about blood donations,” Blood donor services, 2021


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