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Patient Safety Intervention to Reduce Unnecessary Red Blood Cell Utilization
Scott Hasler, MD; Amanda Kleeman MS; Richard Abrams, MD; Jisu Kim, MD; Manya Gupta, MD; Mary Katherine Krause, MS; and Tricia J. Johnson, PhD
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Patient Safety Intervention to Reduce Unnecessary Red Blood Cell Utilization

Scott Hasler, MD; Amanda Kleeman MS; Richard Abrams, MD; Jisu Kim, MD; Manya Gupta, MD; Mary Katherine Krause, MS; and Tricia J. Johnson, PhD
This study evaluated the impact of a patient safety intervention and national guideline to reduce unnecessary red blood cell transfusions in a large, urban academic medical center.
The decrease in transfusions among all patients is complemented by the analyses conducted on the subset of patients who received transfusions. The drop in the number of patients receiving a transfusion who had a pre-transfusion hemoglobin concentration greater than 8 g/dL suggests that physicians were more cognizant of the recommended hemoglobin threshold. The decrease in the average pre-transfusion hemoglobin levels across all 3 time periods also supports this conclusion.

This study demonstrated that a restrictive transfusion strategy will translate into significant cost savings. Our estimate of just over $131,000 in savings per year was for units that use less than 10% of our institution’s total RBC products and excluded the significant indirect expense of RBCs, including storage, transportation, and waste. Most importantly, there are likely substantial downstream decreases in hospital-acquired complications, mortality, and length of stay from adopting a restrictive transfusion strategy.

The success of this educational intervention provides insight into how hospitals can facilitate the adoption of evidence-based guidelines. Although educational conferences, seminars, and reminders have shown mixed results in changing physician practice, such interventions can be successful when embraced by leadership, implemented in a suitable safety culture, and when they seek maximum physician engagement.12,18 Our local intervention was aided by a strong commitment to quality improvement and high-value care, as well as buy-in from leadership.


There are several limitations in this study. This intervention was studied within 1 department, and the intervention’s applicability to other medical centers or departments must be considered. This study was conducted at a teaching hospital with resident physicians, and it is plausible that its trainees are more likely to adopt guidelines because they are early in their career. Furthermore, although the statistical analysis suggests that the education intervention was responsible for the greater drop in transfusion rates, it is difficult to separate its impact from the global awareness of AABB guidelines in the medical community. Finally, it is important to note that the transfusion rate also decreased among patients with hemoglobin levels below 8 g/dL—an unexpected effect considering the education intervention should have only reduced the transfusion rate among patients with hemoglobin levels above 8 g/dL. This may have been due to physicians following a stricter guideline for some GI bleed patients, where evidence shows an even lower hemoglobin threshold of 7 g/dL to be more appropriate.7,10

This analysis provides insight into the effectiveness of interventions used to guide physician behavior toward evidence-based practices. The results indicate that there was a significant decrease in transfusion rates, patients receiving transfusions above a hemoglobin level of 8 g/dL, total units of RBCs transfused, and the cost of RBC transfusions across all 3 time periods. Following evidence-based guidelines can be a crucial step in the transformation toward value-based care and reducing waste in the healthcare system. This study validated a fundamental approach to guideline adoption with the goal of improving patient safety, but also demonstrated the potential for cost-savings associated with the achievement of safer care. 

Author Affiliations: Department of Internal Medicine (SH, RA, JK, MG) and Department of Health Systems Management (AK, MKK, TJ), Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL.

Source of Funding: None.

Author Disclosures: The authors report no relationship or financial interest with any entity that would pose a conflict of interest with the subject matter of this article.

Authorship Information: Concept and design (TJ, RA, SH, MKK, AK, JK, MG); acquisition of data (TJ, RA, AK); analysis and interpretation of data (TJ, SH, RA, AK, JK); drafting of the manuscript (TJ, SH, RA, AK, MG); critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content (TJ, RA, SH, MKK, AK, MG); statistical analysis (TJ, AK); administrative, technical, or logistic support (TJ, SH, RA); and supervision (SH, MKK, JK).

Address correspondence to: Tricia Johnson, PhD, Department of Health Systems Management, Rush University Medical Center, 1700 W Van Buren St, Chicago, IL 60612. E-mail:

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12. Kenefick H, Lee J, Fleishman V. Improving physician adherence to clinical practice guidelines barriers and strategies for change. New England Healthcare Institute website. Published February 2008. Accessed April 4, 2016. 

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16. Giguère A, Légaré F, Grimshaw J, et al. Printed educational materials: effects on professional practice and healthcare outcomes. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;10:CD004398. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004398.pub3.

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