Original Research

A Longitudinal Study of Transfusion Utilization in Hospitalized Veterans


 

ABSTRACT

• Background: Although transfusion guidelines have changed considerably over the past 2 decades, the adoption of patient blood management programs has not been fully realized across hospitals in the United States.

• Objective: To evaluate trends in red blood cell (RBC), platelet, and plasma transfusion at 3 Veterans Health Administration (VHA) hospitals from 2000 through 2010.

• Methods: Data from all hospitalizations were collected from January 2000 through December 2010. Blood bank data (including the type and volume of products administered) were available electronically from each hospital. These files were linked to inpatient data, which included ICD-9-CM diagnoses (principal and secondary) and procedures during hospitalization. Statistical analyses were conducted using generalized linear models to evaluate trends over time. The unit of observation was hospitalization, with categorization by type.

• Results: There were 176,521 hospitalizations in 69,621 patients; of these, 13.6% of hospitalizations involved transfusion of blood products (12.7% RBCs, 1.4% platelets, 3.0% plasma). Transfusion occurred in 25.2% of surgical and 5.3% of medical hospitalizations. Transfusion use peaked in 2002 for surgical hospitalizations and declined afterwards (P < 0.001). There was no significant change in transfusion use over time (P = 0.126) for medical hospitalizations. In hospitalizations that involved transfusions, there was a 20.3% reduction in the proportion of hospitalizations in which ≥ 3 units of RBCs were given (from 51.7% to 41.1%; P < 0.001) and a 73.6% increase when 1 RBC unit was given (from 8.0% to 13.8%; P < 0.001) from 2000-2010. Of the hospitalizations with RBC transfusion, 9.6% involved the use of 1 unit over the entire study period. The most common principal diagnoses for medical patients receiving transfusion were anemia, malignancy, heart failure, pneumonia and renal failure. Over time, transfusion utilization increased in patients who were admitted for infection (P = 0.009).

• Conclusion: Blood transfusions in 3 VHA hospitals have decreased over time for surgical patients but remained the same for medical patients. Further study examining appropriateness of blood products in medical patients appears necessary.

Key words:  Transfusion; red blood cells; plasma; platelets; veterans.

Transfusion practices during hospitalization have changed considerably over the past 2 decades. Guided by evidence from randomized controlled trials, patient blood management programs have been expanded [1]. Such programs include recommendations regarding minimization of blood loss during surgery, prevention and treatment of anemia, strategies for reducing transfusions in both medical and surgical patients, improved blood utilization, education of health professionals, and standardization of blood management-related metrics [2]. Some of the guidelines have been incorporated into the Choosing Wisely initiative of the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation, including: (a) don’t transfuse more units of blood than absolutely necessary, (b) don’t transfuse red blood cells for iron deficiency without hemodynamic instability, (c) don’t routinely use blood products to reverse warfarin, and (d) don’t perform serial blood counts on clinically stable patients [3]. Although there has been growing interest in blood management, only 37.8% of the 607 AABB (formerly, American Association of Blood Banks) facilities in the United States reported having a patient blood management program in 2013 [2].

While the importance of blood safety is recognized, data regarding the overall trends in practices are conflicting. A study using the Nationwide Inpatient Sample indicated that there was a 5.6% annual mean increase in the transfusion of blood products from 2002 to 2011 in the United States [4]. This contrasts with the experience of Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, in which the incidence of RBC transfusion decreased by 3.2% from 2009 to 2013 [5]. A decline in rates of intraoperative transfusion was also reported among elderly veterans in the United States from 1997 to 2009 [6].

We conducted a study in hospitalized veterans with 2 main objectives: (a) to evaluate trends in utilization of red blood cells (RBCs), platelets, and plasma over time, and (b) to identify those groups of veterans who received specific blood products. We were particularly interested in transfusion use in medical patients.

 

METHODS
Participants were hospitalized veterans at 3 Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers. Data from all hospitalizations were collected from January 2000 through December 2010. Blood bank data (including the type and volume of products administered) were available electronically from each hospital. These files were linked to inpatient data, which included ICD-9-CM diagnoses (principal and secondary) and procedures during hospitalization.

Statistical analyses were conducted using generalized linear models to evaluate trends over time. The unit of observation was hospitalization, with categorization by type. Surgical hospitalizations were defined as admissions in which any surgical procedure occurred, whereas

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