Johns Hopkins: Blood Transfusions Overused During Surgery

Out-of-date guidelines on perioperative blood transfusions have led to expensive and dangerous overuses, according to a study by Johns Hopkins University researchers published in Anesthesiology.  

Researches examined the records of 2,981 patients who received blood transfusions during surgery at Johns Hopkins between February 2010 and August 2011. According to the researchers, surgeons can safely wait until a patient's hemoglobin levels fall to 7 or 8 grams per deciliter, but many patients in the study undergoing surgery for pancreatic cancer, orthopedic problems and aortic aneurysms received a transfusion at 10 grams per deciliter or above.

Overusing blood transfusions is expensive. The researchers note that while unit of blood can cost a hospital up to $1,100, Medicare reimbursement is only $182 for that unit, exposing an opportunity for cost savings by more carefully controlling blood transfusions, according to a news release.  

Unnecessary blood transfusions are also dangerous. Blood transfusions suppress a patient's immune system, and often patients develop antibodies to transfused red blood cells, making a donor match harder to find should a transfusion be needed in the future, according to the news release.  

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