Blood Banking: Navigating Challenges, Best Practices, and the Role of a Blood Bank Management Solution

Advertisement img

Author: Shonali PaulChief Operating Officer at CloudLIMS.com

While it may sound somewhat alliterative, blood banks indeed are the lifeblood of any medical system. Each year, nearly 5 million individuals rely on blood transfusions to sustain their lives, according to the American Red Cross. This staggering statistic highlights the vital role of blood banks in ensuring timely access to life-saving resources in critical situations. However, the significance of their work goes beyond mere numbers. Behind the scenes, blood banks operate within a complex web of responsibilities and expectations, tasked with safeguarding the integrity and safety of blood, plasma, and platelets. The storage and preservation of these precious resources demand steadfast diligence and adherence to best practices.

In this article, we uncover the distinctive challenges faced by blood banks and explore the role advanced equipment and practices play in upholding the integrity of life-saving resources.

Featured Partners

What is blood banking?

Blood banking refers to the process of collecting, testing, processing, and storing blood and blood components for transfusion or medical research purposes. The concept of blood banking dates back to 1936 when the first U.S. blood bank was established. Since then, blood banks have evolved significantly, adopting advanced technologies and methods to meet the growing demands of healthcare. Today, blood banks collect blood from donors and separate its various components, such as red blood cells, plasma, and platelets, through a process called fractionation. This allows hospitals and blood banking facilities to meet the specific needs of patients, maximizing their effectiveness in medical treatments and transfusions.

What are the different components of blood?

Each blood component serves distinct functions.

  • Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to the body’s tissues, making them essential in the treatment of conditions like anemia.
  • Platelets aid in blood clotting, crucial for managing bleeding disorders and certain types of cancer like leukemia.
  • White blood cells play a pivotal role in the immune response of our body, helping the body fight infections and diseases.
  • Plasma, the liquid part of blood, acts as a transporter for red and white blood cells and platelets throughout the bloodstream. It also maintains blood pressure, provides proteins for blood clotting, and balances levels of sodium and potassium.
  • Additionally, blood banks may separate other components like Cryoprecipitate antihaemophilic factor (AHF), rich in clotting factors to control bleeding, and various proteins like albumin and immune globulins for transfusion purposes.
The Role of a Blood Bank Management Solution in Overcoming Operational Hurdles of Blood Banking
Figure 1: Components present in blood

What are the various challenges blood banks face?

  1. Short shelf life: One of the foremost challenges encountered by blood banks lies in the shelf lives of blood components. While other medical facilities may employ a variety of storage units capable of preserving resources for extended periods—ranging from weeks to decades—blood banks operate within a much narrower timeframe. Typically, whole blood has a shelf life of around 42 days, during which it must be utilized before expiration. Moreover, unlike samples stored in ultra-low freezers or cryostorage units, blood cannot be frozen for long-term preservation in most cases. The need for constant, cold-but-not-frozen storage poses logistical challenges for blood banks. The time-sensitive nature of blood banking requires precise adherence to strict timelines to ensure the availability of safe and viable blood products for patients in need.
  2. Disparate storage needs: Blood banks face the daunting task of managing the disparate storage needs of blood components, each requiring precise conditions to maintain integrity. Whole blood, with its limited storage duration of approximately 42 days, requires refrigeration at a constant temperature of around 2°C to preserve its viability. In contrast, plasma demands freeze-blasting to temperatures of at least -25°C to prevent degradation and maintain its therapeutic properties. Platelets, arguably the most delicate of all blood components, present a unique challenge—they must be stored at room temperature to prevent chilling-induced damage, yet require constant agitation to prevent clotting. The diverse storage requirements place a significant burden on blood banks, requiring specialized equipment and careful monitoring to ensure the safety and efficacy of blood products.
  3. Maintenance of storage units: The constant upkeep of storage units poses a significant challenge for blood banks. Ensuring the correct temperature and functionality of storage units is paramount, as any fluctuations can jeopardize the integrity of blood components. For instance, if the temperature drops in a storage unit containing whole blood, ice crystal formation may occur, potentially rendering the blood unfit for transfusion and posing a significant risk to patients. Similarly, in the case of platelets, any malfunction in the agitator—responsible for maintaining constant movement—can lead to clotting resulting in substantial costs for the blood bank. The freeze-blasting process required for plasma in specialized freezers must operate with precision, as any interruption can quickly lead to the degradation of these samples, compromising their therapeutic efficacy.
  4. Challenges during transfer: The transfer of blood, plasma, and platelets from storage to the patient represents a critical phase. It’s not just about safe transfer but also ensuring the preservation of these precious resources throughout the process. Temperature control is a primary concern during this phase, as any deviations can have dire consequences. For instance, if blood is not brought to at least room temperature before transfusion, it can lead to complications for the recipient. Moreover, the presence of ice crystals within the blood poses a significant risk, potentially resulting in fatal consequences. The transfer of platelets presents its own set of challenges, as their delicate nature demands continuous movement to prevent clotting, adding complexity to the transfer process. Furthermore, the urgency of delivering these resources to patients while maintaining their integrity calls for constant oversight, which can be logistically challenging for blood banks.

What are some recommended practices to overcome the challenges in blood banking?

  1. Installation of advanced equipment in storage units: The time-sensitive nature of blood and diverse storage requirements warrant that storage units be equipped with precise temperature control, efficient air circulation systems, and sophisticated monitoring capabilities. Such units ensure the maintenance of optimal conditions for blood components and mitigate the risk of ice crystal formation. Additionally, specialized features such as door sensors connected to comprehensive monitoring systems provide an added layer of security, promptly alerting staff to any deviations from the desired storage conditions. From ultra-low freezers to specialized platelet agitators, each piece of equipment plays a critical role in preserving the viability and safety of blood products in the blood bank setting.
  2. Temperature mapping and advanced monitoring: Temperature mapping and advanced monitoring systems are indispensable tools in the arsenal of blood banks, offering enhanced visibility and control over storage conditions. Temperature mapping involves systematically assessing temperature variations within storage units to identify potential hotspots or areas of concern. By strategically placing sensors throughout storage facilities, blood banks can gather data on temperature fluctuations and optimize storage configurations to ensure uniform conditions. Advanced monitoring systems complement temperature mapping efforts by providing real-time alerts and notifications in the event of temperature deviations or equipment malfunctions. Additionally, advanced monitoring ensures constant vigilance not only during periods of withdrawals, deposits, and frequent door-opening instances but also when there is no movement or change, safeguarding blood components against unforeseen risks.
  3. Streamlined transfer protocols and real-time data: Implementing streamlined transfer protocols is essential to mitigate the challenges encountered during the transfer of blood, plasma, or platelets from storage to the patient. These protocols should prioritize temperature control throughout the transfer process, ensuring that blood components are maintained at optimal conditions to prevent degradation or adverse reactions. The importance of real-time data cannot be overstated when samples are being transferred from storage to patients. Real-time data assures healthcare professionals that the blood, plasma, or platelets they are about to administer are stable, safe, and ready for use.
  4. Implementing a blood bank management solution: Implementing a blood bank management solution, also known as Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS), enhances the storage, preservation, and tracking of the critical life-saving resources that blood banks store. A LIMS provides comprehensive sample tracking capabilities, allowing blood banks to monitor each sample throughout its lifecycle. It captures crucial data associated with each sample, including donor details, collection dates, and storage locations, ensuring seamless identification and retrieval when needed. Integration with temperature monitoring systems is a standout feature of a blood bank management solution, enabling continuous surveillance and recording of storage temperatures to maintain optimal preservation conditions. Furthermore, a blood bank management solution facilitates the management and scheduling of equipment calibration and maintenance tasks, ensuring that storage units and equipment utilized in blood banking operations work optimally. Efficient inventory management is another key benefit of a blood bank solution, enabling accurate tracking of sample quantities and expiry dates of red blood cells, platelets, and plasma. This capability enables blood banks to optimize resource allocation, minimize wastage, and maintain a robust chain-of-custody, essential for preserving sample integrity and traceability. Finally, a blood bank solution maintains a comprehensive audit trail, automatically recording all actions taken with samples and records. This enables thorough review and analysis in the event of an issue or discrepancy.
Figure 2: Seamlessly manage and track blood samples and blood components using a biobanking LIMS

Conclusion

Blood banks serve as the lifeline of medical systems, providing vital resources that sustain millions of lives each year. The challenges they face, from short shelf lives to complex storage requirements, require innovative solutions and advanced technologies. Embracing technology is crucial to overcoming these challenges and ensuring the integrity and safety of blood products. Implementing a blood bank management solution strengthens the storage, preservation, and tracking of these critical life-saving resources, ensuring seamless identification, monitoring, and retrieval when needed.

 

References:

  1. https://cloudlims.com/blood-banking-overcoming-the-unique-challenges-with-a-blood-bank-lims-solution/
  2. https://www.clinicallab.com/xiltrix-blood-bank-402504-27047
  3. https://medicblood.org/2023/10/challenges-in-blood-banking-with-chief-medical-officer-dr-tom-watson/
  4. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/blood-banking
  5. https://www.hematology.org/education/patients/blood-basics/blood-banking-and-donation