New research shows that performing fewer blood transfusions helps hospitals lower costs and produce better patient outcomes.

Blood transfusions have long been used in health care to compensate for significant blood loss or treat blood disorders. But some studies suggest that up to 40 percent of blood transfusions are unnecessary. Transfusions also have been linked to adverse outcomes, including fever, lung injury, allergic reactions, and immune suppression. And they can be costly: Each unit of red blood cells costs hospitals an estimated $218 before additional expenses for overhead and transportation.

A new study from Premier examined blood transfusions at 645 hospitals between 2011 and 2016. Premier is America’s Essential Hospitals’ preferred group purchasing organization partner.

During the study period, transfusions dropped:

  • 20 percent among the 134 diagnoses most commonly associated with the practice; and
  • nearly 50 percent among the top 10 diagnoses associated with the practice.

The drop was not associated with any decline in care quality, and coincided with a decrease in mortality, complications, and readmissions. The study also found that one hospital saved a reported $6.2 million by cutting back on blood transfusions.

The study authors suggest hospitals should consider these findings as they make decisions about using blood transfusions. Specifically, the researchers recommend hospitals incorporate transfusion-monitoring tools in electronic health records, standardize ordering procedures, analyze data trends, and engage with providers about standards and best practices.