A better understanding of risks associated with allogeneic blood transfusions (ABTs), along with a growing population of patients who do not accept transfusions, have led to the emergence of new treatment paradigms with “bloodless medicine.” In this chapter, we review prior studies describing management and outcomes in patients who refuse transfusion (referred to as “bloodless patients” herein) and summarize the approaches used at our institution. Bloodless management for surgical patients includes treatment of preoperative anemia, use of autologous blood salvage, and minimizing blood loss with procedures. Other adjuncts for both medical and surgical patients include minimizing blood loss from laboratory testing using pediatric phlebotomy tubes and conservative testing. Anemia can be treated with erythropoiesis-stimulating agents, as well as iron, folate, and B12 when indicated. Although there are limited retrospective studies and no prospective studies to guide management, prior reports suggest that outcomes for surgical patients managed without ABTs are comparable to historic controls. A recent risk-adjusted, propensity-matched, case-control study of outcomes of all hospitalized patients who refused ABT at a large academic health center showed that bloodless management was not an independent predictor of adverse outcomes. Surprisingly, there was a lower overall mortality in the bloodless group and discharge hemoglobin levels were similar for both bloodless and control groups.
Further research is now needed to optimize therapy and identify novel interventions to manage bloodless patients. Lessons learned from bloodless patients are likely to benefit all patients given recent evidence suggesting that patients who avoid ABTs do as well, if not better, than those who accept transfusions.
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