UI eyes blood system

BY SAM LANE | NOVEMBER 12, 2009 7:20 AM

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New technology at the UI Hospital and Clinics may make tracing blood more efficient and the donated blood safer for patients.

After receiving part of a $1.4 million National Institutes of Health grant several weeks ago, UIHC researchers are working toward implementing a new tracking system for blood transportation, said Thomas Raife, the medical director of the UIHC’s DeGowin Blood Center and head of the UI research team.

The new program would place a postage stamp-sized microchip — radio-frequency identification technology — on bags of blood. This chip will stay on the package throughout its journey from the time it is donated to when it arrives at the patient’s bedside.

Radio signals are sent from the chip to computer antennas, which inform medical professionals about the status of the blood.

In its first phase, researchers looked at the safety and financial aspects of the technology, Raife said. Now that the hospital has funding, officials will work to implement the system over the next few years.

“We looked at what kind of technology would be most applicable,” Raife said. “We wanted to understand where [radio frequency identification technology] would facilitate that process.”

The UIHC currently uses a bar-code system to track its blood.

This system, Raife explained, involves “wanding” bar-codes on the bags of blood as well as a patient’s wristband. This technology is unique and advanced but also “very manual” and time-consuming.

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“We’ve shown it can have a significant effect on productivity,” Judith Levitt, the laboratory manager at the DeGowin Blood Center, said about the new system. “We can get more accomplished.”

The technology has the potential to enhance safety in the transportation and preservation of blood, she said.

One of the main ways this will occur, Levitt said, is by monitoring any changes in the blood’s temperature — an ability the current bar-code system doesn’t have. If the chip detects the blood has left its appropriate temperature range, the blood will be unusable.

The grant was awarded to several hospitals across the country, all of which are working toward the same technology together.

Alfonso Gutierrez, one of the study’s administrators at the University of Wisconsin, noted the new system will improve the safety, efficiency, and quality of transfers.

“You can increase the safety of the process,” said Gutierrez, also the University of Wisconsin’s director of radio-frequency identification. “Right now, it’s subject to errors.”

Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston is one of the few medical institutions in the country that already uses such a technology in the blood transportation. The hospital began using it in 2005 as way to prevent mix-ups in blood transfusion.

More than 850 patients receive transfusions intended for someone else each year in the United States, according to a 2004 study. At least 20 people die from the complications.

Levitt said the UIHC uses a form of this technology in its employee identification badges and some other hospital equipment.

“It’s very exciting,” Raife said. “Clearly, [radio frequency identification] is the wave of the future. Being at the forefront of this technology is very exciting for the University of Iowa.”

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