Selling Blood

BWJones writes on his blog about blood donation, selling blood, blood costs, blood shortages, and some historical problems with paying for blood.

He would like for all blood donation to be voluntary but accepts that paying for it may necessary at times. I think it’s a great idea all the time. Here’s how it could work:

We need to address these problems:

  • people donating too frequently

  • people donating who aren’t eligible due to age or history

  • people donating who are likely to give bad blood

for any such system to work.

Bryan cites studies from the ’70’s showing that the quality of blood that was paid for was lower, and this makes sense.

But today we have technology we didn’t have thirty years ago.

Let’s consider a system like this:

  • person signs up to be a blood donor

  • standard tests are done

  • a biometric (retinal scan, I’ll recommend) is taken

  • this data is uploaded to a database. Let’s say the Red Cross manages this.

  • Blood collection units are outfitted with a retinal scanner and laptop to enroll and check people.

  • Wifi or cellular connection needed (fall back to the old system where unavailable)

So, a person coming in to donate needs to:

  • Sit down in front of the scanner. Positive ID made.

  • The system checks on all the various criteria and decides if the person is eligable to donate

  • Blood is donated.

Note, there’s nothing in these steps about ID. This can be totally anonymous. This will increase the number of people donating blood.

Now, if the blood is bad, it’s:

  • rejected from the blood supply

  • the donor is marked in the database as either a problem donor (3 strikes and you’re out) or is permanently off the list (hepatitis, AIDS, etc.)

If the blood is good:

  • The blood enters the blood supply

  • The donor is marked as a good donor

So, now the issue of payment has to be dealt with. We have risk involved here for the blood manager, as there is some unknown aspect of the quality of the blood. By collecting the above data we have a system to rate the quality of the donor.

To these we’ll assigned a tiered pricing scheme. For donors with no score at all, there are two options:

  • Cash on donation

  • Delayed payment

For those who wish to remain anonymous, and are new, cash on donation is the only option. But they are also the riskiest. We only give them $20. If their blood is bad, it’s marked as such and they won’t get $20 again.

If the person is willing to give his personal information, that’s more valuable. For them, we’ll give them $50 for the unit of blood, but only after it’s been verified to be OK. This encourages good donors since their payment is delayed and they won’t donate if they know they have a problem since they won’t get any money. The value difference is good enough that they’re willing to wait a week or so for their check/direct deposit.

Giving personal information is also useful to many people because it serves as a free bloodbourne-disease screen, but we need to know how to let them know if they’re sick. Still, many people prefer their privacy, and if you mandate this you lose donors. Let’s keep our eye on the ball.

Next, we have historically good donors. They’ve donated a dozen times, all checking out OK. These folks get $50 at the donation center instead of having to wait a week since the odds of their donation being bad are very low. If it is, the system will correct itself the next time around (they’re back on the the wait-a-week plan). This will encourage more people to donate because they gain immediate gratification and can take their family out to dinner that night. This is a powerful motivator.

And, of course, anybody can waive the payment if they wish to donate magnanimously.

Now, this appears to increase the cost of blood slightly. 20%, according to BWJones’s numbers ($50 on top of $200, not counting the cost of laptops/scanner). But that only considers the immediate cost of the blood. If you have twice as many people showing up at a blood drive, why you don’t need to have as many blood drives. Therefore, I believe this proposal would be, on the approximate, cost-neutral and increase the blood supply.

All without getting the Federal Government involved in the process, and more importantly, getting donors who don’t file a Schedule C with the IRS.