Jehovah’s Witnesses brought bloodless medicine into the mainstream. Other patients have caught on and by refusing any type of blood transfusion, physicians sought for workable alternatives. Bloodless surgery is the answer.
Why Bloodless Medicine?
Whereas members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses faith community have worked with doctors for a long time on methods for avoiding blood transfusions, patients outside this religious group are now asking for this type of treatment as well. The University of Southern California — Department of Surgery — explains that it is the risk of infection as well as adverse personal immune complications that propel those being treated to ask for bloodless surgery.
Considering that blood borne diseases found within donated blood supplies have (thus far) included Hepatitis A, B and C, the herpes virus, syphilis, the virus that causes Creutzfeldt-Jacob (mad cow disease) and malaria, it stands to reason that caution is not a sign of paranoia. Of course, the sometimes alarmingly low availability of hospital blood supplies makes bloodless medicine not only an attractive option for surgery centers, but also a requirement to provide adequate care in all conditions.
Is There Really No Blood?
There is some confusion about the term “bloodless medicine,” and patients will do well to discuss the doctor’s understanding of the practice well in advance of treatment. Hard-lined approaches consider bloodless surgery to be a procedure that does not involve an actual blood transfusion but might require the infusion of blood substitutes or an autologous transfusion of previously patient-banked blood.
Other surgeons may opt for introducing patients to preoperative dietary supplements or medications that stimulate erythropoiesis in the body. As a result, the patient’s red blood cell count increases naturally. Still another understanding of bloodless medicine deals with the use of advanced surgical techniques. For example, laser scalpels control bleeding more thoroughly than standard scalpel cuts.
Why Bloodless Surgery is a Breakthrough
Going back to basics, the University of Maryland Medical Center explains that the underlying principle for blood transfusions is the requirement for stable hemoglobin levels in the body. Part and parcel of the red blood cells, hemoglobin facilitates the oxygenation of bodily tissues.
A reduction of this function is directly related to a heightened risk of infections, tissue damage and a decreased ability to heal. Being able to circumnavigate this problem with proper blood management benefits the patient.
From Patient Care to the Fiscal Bottom Line
In all fairness, the sudden interest in bloodless medicine is not merely patient-driven. The financial component of doing away with blood transfusions all together is an attractive consideration to cash-strapped hospitals.
Virginia Commonwealth University explains that the cost of blood unit testing has skyrocketed from about $30 in 1979 to almost $100 in 2001. Blood shortages and the heightening costs of blood acquisition contribute to the cancellation of elective surgeries, which are money in the bank for any surgery center.
Not surprisingly, the various forms of bloodless medicine and surgery are sure to receive much more attention now and in the years to come.