Blood as economic indicator?

I’m a platelets donor and don’t think much about my blood beyond that. But given my job, I was intrigued recently when I learned blood offered a window on the economy.

Turns out blood demand is a kind of economic indicator.

Here and across the country, the need for blood and blood products has dipped during the recession. One of the key reasons: people putting off elective surgeries.

minnecon.smallicon.gifBlood is always needed, officials are quick to point out, especially during the holidays. So this isn’t a reason not to donate.

Still, the lower demand is a compelling little fact. Locally, “while donations are down slightly, so is the need for some blood products,” said Nick Gehrig, spokesman for the American Red Cross in Minnesota.

“We believe this is due in part to fewer elective procedures being performed by hospitals overall,” he said. “As the economy rebounds and people seek the elective procedures they may have put off, we expect the need for blood may rebound as well.”

Gehrig pointed us to a report earlier this year by the American Hospital Association showing the majority of surveyed hospitals reporting a drop in elective surgeries and in-patient care compared to 2008.

It’s not a big leap to see that hospitals need less blood because people are putting off surgeries because they don’t have insurance because they lost their jobs and health coverage in the recession.

We’ve heard from folks in MPR’s Public Insight Network during this recession who’ve told us stories of avoiding the doctor because they couldn’t afford it.

We’re hoping to get some more specific data on blood demand in the Twin Cities and post again on the issue.

If you’ve had to put off elective surgeries or doctors visits because of the recession or your health care coverage, you can help keep the conversation going. Post below or contact me directly and share your story.

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At the extreme, the lousy economy and low demand is closing a blood bank in Alaska.

In terms of donations, the Red Cross has seen about a three percent decline since July, Gehrig said. “It’s difficult to say whether that can be attributed to a single factor such as the flu, or for some other reasons such as the economy.

Local and national Red Cross blood supplies are currently sufficient, he added, “but as the holiday season approaches and many regular donors are traveling it will be increasingly important that donations continue to keep pace with the transfusion needs of patients. ”

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We got interested in the blood demand question after a discussion with Karla Fenstermaker, a source in our Network who works for the American Red Cross in the Twin Cities.

We’re always looking for different vantage points on the Minnesota economy. Tell us what you’re seeing.

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