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Most of us don’t worry about whether there will be blood available if we or a family member needs it. We assume other people will donate blood, but in reality, blood donation is something we all should be thinking about as vital to a good healthcare system. And if we can’t donate blood, we should encourage others to do so.

Ensuring the blood supply is at a healthy level and that the blood donation distribution process is optimized is more complex than most people realize. To begin with, blood is perishable; it has a shelf life of only 42 days. Testing, processing and distributing blood to hospitals across the United States also takes several days.

Patients often can’t wait for blood to be delivered, especially in trauma situations, so hospitals and blood centers work to be good stewards of the blood supply by making sure they have enough on hand at any time but don’t overstock.

Finally, blood centers and hospitals also work to make sure they have the right mix of blood types to meet the needs of different patients. While hospitals keep blood products on the shelves for emergencies, they can order what they need any time, day or night, and the blood center will deliver it to them as quickly as possible.

Types of Blood Donors

There are three types of blood donors: voluntary unpaid, family/replacement and paid. In the U.S., we rely on voluntary blood donation. Most hospitals prefer blood donations from volunteers. The concern is that paid donors might not tell the truth about their health history or any high-risk behaviors that could result in transmissible infectious diseases being inadvertently transfused to patients.

Cost of the Blood Donation Distribution Process

When hospitals purchase units of blood, they pay a cost recovery fee to the nonprofit blood center. This fee covers the costs of staffing and equipment at collection sites, testing of donations, processing and delivery of blood products.

Blood centers may operate out of a specific location affiliated with a hospital or donation center. They may also hold blood drives by partnering with businesses, religious organizations, schools or other groups that host the blood drives on their premises. Volunteer blood donors across the country help save thousands of lives every year.

Blood Shortages are Common

Due to the voluntary nature of blood donation, seasonal supply shortages of blood in winter, summer and around holidays are common. This is due to schools being closed, people being busier and businesses often preferring not to host drives during these time periods.

But patients who rely on blood donations can’t wait. If you’d like to help ensure a steady supply of blood for patients, you can become a blood drive host.

To learn more about the blood donation process, watch our video below. 

If you've never donated blood before -- or it has been a while since your last donation -- please make your livesaving appointment today by clicking on the DONATE NOW button on the navigation menu.