Dr. Lauren Anthony, a pathologist who led Allina Health's 12 hospitals in the Twin Cities to reduce blood use said since 2010, the hospitals used 14,000 fewer units of blood after it adopted research-based standards, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
The research-based recommendations resulted in fewer anemic patients who received transfusions after surgery, and the amount of blood given per transfusion, Anthony said.
Anthony said transfusions used to be prescribed for patients with anemia and hemoglobin readings of 8-10.
A healthy hemoglobin level in adults is around 13 grams per deciliter The American Association of Blood Banks made a formal guideline in 2012 that transfusions shouldn't be considered until readings are as low as 7 unless patients showed significant symptoms related to their blood loss Anthony said.
"If you're bleeding out, blood is going to save your life," Anthony told the Star Tribune. "But if you're not bleeding out, blood is not as beneficial as they used to think it was."
Transfusions are considered "liquid transplants," and can be lifesaving, but they also present risks including infections, prolonged hospital stays and hypervolemia -- a condition that results when patients have too much blood filling their veins.
Therefore, U.S. hospitals are using research findings and better management of blood to reduce blood use.
For example, for years the standard was to give two units of blood for transfusions, but studies showed single-unit transfusions were equally effective in many cases, and safer Anthony said.
However, habits die hard so pathologists use more than the usual lectures, posters and memos to get the message out that two units of blood for transfusions is not standard anymore.
At Allina, pathologists went a step further by using a parody "Blood Police" DVD, in which a fictional blood cop pulls over a doctor and nurse for ordering an unnecessary transfusion.
However, Dr. Kathrine Frey of Fairview Southdale Hospital said she is a real-life blood cop to doctors and nurses where she helped reduce blood usage by about 3,000 units per year.
"If I look at them funny, they say, 'I didn't do it! I didn't transfuse that patient,'" the pathologist said. "This has been the most joyful, rewarding work I have ever done, because you can really see the difference. You bring the blood units down, you know the patients are safer and you save the hospital significant money."