By-products, efficiency pay off for blood center
For the Rock River Valley Blood Center, its product is worth the sum of its parts.
If a pint of blood were just a bag of red cells, the center could quickly go broke under its contract to supply eight area hospitals with up to 50,000 units of red blood cells a year at $163 a unit. Or it would add to the cost of local health care by charging the $190.21 it actually costs to get that unit of blood from a donor’s arm and into a hospital.
The center hasn’t had to do either, Chief Executive Officer Linda Gerber said, because “there is always a second product or a third product that a unit of red cells can be broken down into.”
The sale and sharing of those products, she said, are what keep the center’s books in the black and the cost of life-saving red cells to the hospitals below the national average.
Debbi Tiffany, director of laboratory services at SwedishAmerican Hospital, said the blood center is a valued partner.
“We appreciate all their efforts in trying to maintain the blood supply while complying with regulations that would make your head explode,” Tiffany said. “While no one wants to pay more for anything in this day and age, we feel the blood center supplies us with an excellent product at a fair price.”
Tiffany said she projects a percentage increase based on the previous year’s increases when she budgets for blood costs each year.
“I have usually been able to anticipate where the blood center is going,” she said. “This is a budget that is hard to predict, since usage is solely at the discretion of physicians and the type of patients we see.”
A large part of the $27.21 difference between the center’s cost and the price it charges the hospitals is made up by selling about 80 percent of the plasma from the blood it draws to Swiss-based Octapharma AG, which produces high-quality plasma derivatives such as Factor VIII used in the treatment of hemophiliacs at plants in Austria, France, Sweden and Mexico.
“We get approximately $20 (a) unit,” Gerber said, “so that makes up a little bit for the loss.”
She said the remaining 20 percent of the plasma is converted into transfusable products, such as platelets and cryoprecipitates used in bleeding factor products.
“We try to determine how much our hospitals will need for their patients and then share the excess when possible,” she said. “Because these products are direct patient products, they are priced at a higher price than we get from Octapharma.”
Gerber said the hospitals typically keep a one- or two-day supply of blood on their shelves and the center keeps enough on its shelves at any time to restock all the hospitals three times over.
“The same amount of blood isn’t used every day, though,” Gerber said. “And when we have extra, we need to move those units off the shelves so they don’t expire. We think that donors want their blood to be used for patients, so we will resource-share those products with other areas that don’t have the dedicated donors that we have. Those products get sold at what our cost is or a little bit higher.”
Platelets are one of the center’s most precious commodities, blood center public relations director Jennifer Bowman said, because their shelf life is only five days and they must go through a two-day bacterial process before they go out.
“So they’re really only available for three days and then they’re gone,” Bowman said. “Those get moved around constantly. The Quad Cities blood center and the blood center in Aurora and us have been known to meet out on I-39 and swap platelets because we have a B-positive patient bleeding and they’ve got an A-positive patient and we’ve each got what the other needs, so we’re meeting out on the highway with coolers.”
Gerber said the Rock River Valley Blood Center’s contract price with the hospitals is below the national average of $205 per unit of blood and lower than all of the four blood centers that surround its coverage area. Those centers, in the Quad Cities, Aurora, Chicago and Milwaukee charged between $171 and $176 per unit in 2007.
She said the center controls costs by keeping its rate of outdated units to about 0.5 percent, as opposed to the national average of 1.5 percent to 2 percent, and in reducing the discard rate from unusable blood draws from 4.3 percent to 3.6 percent.
“We’re very good at making sure that every donation is used, either within our system or shared where it can be used,” Gerber said. “That insures that our hospitals get the best price and keep health care costs down. We have some of the best health care in the region with our heart hospitals and all that, and it’s extremely important that we are able to help them contain costs because they’re not getting any more money for a lot of these procedures.”
Mike DeDoncker can be reached at (815) 987-1382 email@example.com.