Preoperative autologous blood donation: clinical, economic, and ethical issues

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Many patients are donating their own blood before surgery to avoid blood-borne infections, often on the advice of their physicians. But autologous blood transfusion, while safer than allogeneic transfusion, is not completely risk-free. It is also expensive, its benefits are difficult to assess, and its increasing popularity raises many difficult ethical issues, such as whether the benefit of allogeneic transfusion supports its additional expense.


Record-keeping, collection, and transfusion errors are occasional risks of autologous transfusions. In addition, risks associated with blood donation, from mild dizziness to precipitation of angina, should be considered when high-risk patients are referred for autologous collection.

Only approximately half of autologous units collected are actually used, and the cost per quality-adjusted year of life saved may be as high as $1 million, depending on the type of surgical procedure.

Although recombinant human erythropoietin can stimulate red blood cell production before autologous donation and decrease the need for transfusion, it is not clear whether this strategy, which can cost thousands of dollars per patient, will be cost-effective.

Perioperative hemodilution may become an important component in efforts to reduce patient exposure to allogeneic blood, but its use remains controversial.



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