The Future of Our Blood Supply Chain is Digital
Contributed Commentary by Troy Hilsenroth
February 10, 2021 | The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our nation’s blood supply was not very apparent in public discussion. And yet the radical shifts in the demand for blood products, and the availability thereof, should be studied and analyzed to improve the robustness and resilience of our blood supply.
As schools and workplaces transitioned to remote access, blood centers could not use blood drives, which counts for a large portion of the blood collected across the U.S. This dramatic decrease in blood availability coincided with a surge in demand for COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma (CCP). This was a completely new product that blood centers had to master quickly, learning how to efficiently collect, process, test and distribute these CCP units to the hospital blood banks that direly needed it.
In my role as CEO of a Biolog-id LLC, I meet with leaders in community blood centers and hospital blood banks across North America. Through these interactions, I learned to appreciate the critical work of supplying patients with life-saving blood products that can only be available through the generous donation of the fellow men and women of their community.
Balancing the need and availability of blood products is a delicate task even on the most normal of times—let alone in a global pandemic. In such challenging times, managing blood product availability becomes particularly important not only within communities but also across the nation. Access to inventory levels across the entire network becomes particularly valuable—whether it is to optimize the distribution of current inventory or inform collection and manufacturing decisions that impact future inventory.
Data-Driven Allocation of Blood Products
Through digitizing our blood supply chain, we have an opportunity to enhance real-time visibility and improve decision-making processes regionally and nationally.
On the community level, imagine the possibilities of harnessing digital visibility to facilitate the coordination between blood collection centers and the hospital blood banks they supply. Consider, for example, how access to next week’s surgical scheduling can better inform blood collection, manufacturing, and distribution decisions for the blood center supporting these procedures.
On a national level, think about the availability of specific and rare blood units. When rare blood is unavailable locally, the community blood center must contact numerous blood centers in search of the desired units. A digital inventory that would allow for a secure, centralized search will facilitate a simpler and faster way of acquiring the needed blood.
The journey to digitize blood banking is ongoing on multiple levels. One interesting example is blood centers that notify donors when their donation is transfused to a patient in need – whether it is a child fighting leukemia, a teenager undergoing bone marrow transplantation or an elderly patient undergoing open-heart surgery. Engaging donors in the community through technology is only one example of the value of digitizing the complex cascade of blood banking activities.
Addressing the Challenge of Inertia
Economist Theodore Levitt once said, "organizations, by their very nature, are designed to promote order and routine and are therefore inhospitable environments for innovation." These words certainly ring true for a highly regulated industry dealing with highly sensitive products, such as blood banking. That is why a successful digitization strategy must respect the constraints associated with infrastructure, processes and regulation, and allowing for the flexibility needed to address any differences across blood centers and blood banks.
To harness the full power of digitization, we must encourage broad-scale adoption. On the local level, this means adoption across the entire value-chain – from collection at the blood center to the blood bank and procedural areas in the hospital. On the national level, this means adoption across multiple regions and organizations.
To make this a reality, we need solutions that can be implemented with minimal disruption and remain agile as conditions, regulations and environments change. This would make our blood supply better suited for catastrophes and make it easier to maintain excellence in the manufacturing, storage, and distribution of blood products for our neighbors, friends, and family.
As we make our way through the winter months, holiday travel and challenging weather conditions, we should all remember that it is the season to be generous and go out to donate blood. As I continue my family tradition of donating blood, I reflect on the current and future advancements that infuse this critical industry with much-needed innovation.
Troy Hilsenroth served as the vice president and general manager of the medication adherence division at Omnicell, where he built and grew a global division over the last 10 years. Prior to Omnicell, Troy Hilsenroth held management and staff pharmacy positions at prominent healthcare systems. In 2019, he became CEO of Biolog-id LLC, he focuses on driving the adoption of the company’s solutions and enhancing its R&D capabilities in the North American market. He can be reached at Troy.Hilsenroth@biolog-id.com.