Blood transfusions are not only costly, but they can pose risks for patients. Now, some hospitals in the U.S. are significantly reducing transfusion rates during heart surgery.
Harriet White has a new aortic valve, a new lease on life and she's feeling great, even though she just had open-heart surgery.
"I'm thrilled that I didn't need a transfusion. It's just one more thing that can go wrong." White told Ivanhoe.
The Society of Thoracic Surgeons has issued new guidelines to help hospitals cut back on transfusions during aortic valve surgery.
Measures include rationing IV fluids, controlling blood thinners and cell saving.
Dr. Robert Brooker, Chief of Cardiac Anesthesia at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, Florida stresses the importance of blood conservation.
"If there's some bleeding during surgery the blood is not sent to a sucker that's discarded. It's sent to a recycling-type device so you can have that blood re-infused later." Dr. Brooker explained.
Memorial Regional Hospital is one of a number of hospitals in the U.S. using blood conservation measures. Memorial dramatically reduced the percentage of heart surgery patients getting transfusions, from 59 percent in 2006 to 19 percent in 2011. The benefits are significant.
"The people who get a blood transfusion generally do more poorly. They have a higher risk of death. They have a higher risk of infection." Dr. Brooker told Ivanhoe.
As a result, Dr. Brooker says patients like Harriet White do better overall and blood can be saved for those who really need it.
In a recently published study on aortic valve replacement surgery and blood conservation, researchers found patients who had the surgery without transfusion were almost two times less likely to have a major complication.