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Informatics Improves Management of Blood Services

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By Lauren MacDougall

A few years ago, a routine review indicated increased waste in red blood cell inventory. Red blood cells, the most commonly transfused blood component in the hospital system, were expiring before they could be used. The review also revealed varying blood ordering practices among technologists that were both complex and time consuming.

In the fall of 2014, the Pathology Informatics group at Nova Scotia Health Authority’s Central Zone (Halifax area, Eastern Shore and West Hants) recognized an opportunity to improve the process of managing the red blood cell inventory.

The Pathology Informatics Group collaborated with Blood Transfusion Services to develop an automated algorithm that simplified and standardized the process of ordering red blood cells. Launched in June 2015, the tool combines historical data and predicts future usage to determine inventory numbers, which supports better management of inventory by “right sizing” it and making it more responsive to meet demand. “This highlights the creativity of the Pathology Informatics Group to utilize the data in the system to better leverage our resources. We didn’t have to buy anything; we just had to find a way to utilize the data more effectively,” says Dr. Calvino Cheng, Hematopathologist and the provincial Health Authority’s Chief Medical Information Officer.

By adopting new inventory management tool and processes, the Central Zone is now able to more precisely order the number of red blood cell units needed during weekdays and especially during weekends and holidays. The handling time of red blood cell inventory has decreased by approximately two days, reducing the amount of time the product is held in inventory.

Through the introduction of the new algorithm, and better management of red blood cell inventory, the number of units discarded due to expiration has been reduced. Each unit saved from wastage saves approximately $450 in real costs. During the first 12 months of the algorithm’s implementation, the health system had saved $58,950. In comparing the full 23-month period since the algorithm was implemented to the same 23 month period two years prior, approximately 407 units were saved from being outdated, resulting in a $183,150 savings to the health system.

Before the new tool was developed, calculating and accounting for inventories in different areas in the laboratory, hospital and overall health system required complex manual work. Typically, technologists were spending from 30 to 45 minutes, one to two times daily ordering red blood cell inventory. With the new tool, daily ordering times have been reduced to an average of 10 minutes, with some technologists completing their orders in seconds. Not only has this tool generated measureable savings due to the reduction of red blood cell waste, it has also enabled technologists to use their time more effectively.