New technologies are reshaping the blood transfusion value chain to bring greater efficiency, traceability and consistency to this life-saving procedure.

Blood transfusions are commonly used to provide blood or blood components to a patient who has either lost blood due to an accident or suffer from a medical condition that affects their blood.

Typically, blood is donated anonymously and then stored by hospitals or blood banks until needed. Due to the critical nature of the procedure, donated blood must be collected, stored, categorised, and transported using extremely high levels of safety and care.

Donors must be carefully screened for a variety of medical conditions and lifestyle aspects to ensure the blood is free of potential risks to the patient. Blood is tested according to national guidelines and stored according to blood type.

It is estimated that one in ten people entering hospital need some kind of blood transfusion as part of their treatment.

Data, traceability vital to safe transfusions

The key to successful, lifesaving blood transfusions is accurate documentation to ensure consistency and avoid any unnecessary risk. Due to the sensitive nature of blood, the way it is transported and stored is equally important, especially when the blood supply chain network covers a large geographic area where donated blood must travel thousands of kilometers.

Ultimately, hospitals and clinics seek the ability to track the journey from vein to vein in real time with accurate data and while maintaining the integrity of the value chain.

Here, blockchain technology holds huge potential. Blockchain encodes data in a secure and transparent way that can add visibility and security to the blood transfusion value chain. Blockchain could be a more effective way of storing the precise records that allow medical professionals to use donated blood with confidence during life-saving and other medical procedures.

Using blockchain, medical facilities can register vital data about every step in the blood transfusion value chain, from donation to testing to transport, storage and ultimately its use in a medical procedure.

Due to strict requirements for how blood is stored, technologies such as IoT can also play an important supporting role by tracking the temperature at which the blood is stored and recording that to the blockchain. As blood travels through the value chain, the data stored to the blockchain creates an audit trail that links the entire value chain from donor to recipient.

Advances expected from emerging tech

Other emerging technologies hold promise for greater efficiency and transparency in the blood transfusion value chain. Augmented reality could solve one of the key issues with blood donations by helping medical professionals find the vein more consistently and without the trial-and-error that most donors experience.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence also holds huge promise for driving improvements in the blood transfusion value chain, especially since so much data is already created and stored to ensure transfusions are safe and effective.

A study by Stanford University used machine learning to optimise the time between blood donation intervals to ensure donors don’t experience adverse outcomes. Using the model, the researchers could estimate the risk of adverse outcomes and how such risks may change with longer or shorter intervals. This data could then inform how often the donors could donate blood without suffering iron deficiency or other complications.

So-called digital footprinting using AI and machine learning could also help reduce errors when doctors order blood samples. Using RFID integrated to an AI platform, doctors could improve specimen identification and reduce specimen labelling errors while also ensuring accurate transport tracking.

Technology platforms unlock new capabilities

New advances in Laboratory Information Management Systems have also unlocked access to unprecedented levels of visibility and control over lab data and other associated processes. A Laboratory Information Management System is used to manage samples, lab users, instruments and other lab functions, as well as back-office operations such as invoicing.

For example, the SAP Quality Management helps businesses implement and run quality control processes, and is designed to prevent defects, enable continuous process improvement, and establish sustained quality control programs. Global pharmaceutical companies use SAP Quality Management as a primary Laboratory Information Management System to drive supply chain processes, maintain high levels of quality control during production processes, and support research and development.

When matched to a business transformation platform that enables the seamless integration of new technologies, there is virtually no limit to the powerful capabilities that laboratories can unlock. With an intelligent core in place and a quality management system to maintain the highest information standards, laboratories and other stakeholders can protect the integrity of the life-saving blood transfusion supply chain while enabling greater innovation.