EMMC program to reduce blood transfusions draws international interest

Posted Sept. 17, 2012, at 4:48 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 17, 2012, at 5:23 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Eastern Maine Medical Center is hosting physicians and researchers from abroad this month who are interested in the hospital’s work to reduce unnecessary blood transfusions.

On Monday, a team from western Australia visited Bangor for a hands-on introduction to EMMC’s “patient blood management program,” which began in 2007 as an effort to cut down on avoidable blood transfusions. On Sept. 24, a team from Switzerland will visit the hospital to learn about the program.

EMMC has reduced the number of blood transfusions it performs by 60 percent since 2006, according to Dr. Irwin Gross, medical director of transfusion services at the hospital.

In some cases, transfusions can save lives, such as by replenishing the blood lost by severely injured trauma patients, he said. But transfusions aren’t always necessary for some conditions and can lead to complications.

The risks associated with blood transfusions have traditionally centered on patients’ exposure to diseases, such as hepatitis and HIV, Gross said. In recent years, however, with the blood supply widely considered safe, the concerns have shifted to research indicating that transfusions are associated with longer hospital stays and greater risk of hospital-acquired infections and other complications, he said.

EMMC has cut down on unneeded transfusions by screening patients for anemia before they arrive for procedures such as hip and knee replacements, Gross said. By treating the condition — a lack of healthy red blood cells in the body — ahead of time, surgeons often can avoid the need for a transfusion.

“Once [patients] are here, we use medications and surgical techniques to try to minimize the amount of blood that’s lost,” he said.

While orthopedic procedures such as joint replacements often involve blood transfusions, the procedure is actually more common in nonsurgical hospital admissions, particularly among cancer patients, Gross said.

The hospital also has integrated the blood management strategies into its electronic medical records system, which helps doctors to make better decisions about when transfusions are necessary while reviewing patients’ histories, Gross said.

The team from western Australia, which is visiting EMMC through Wednesday, is interested in developing a blood management program across a number of hospitals in their region, he said. The group from the University Hospital Zurich, visiting next Monday, plans to do the same within their hospital, Gross said.

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