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Hospitals May Lag on Blood Safety

Hospitals May Lag on Blood Safety
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Oct. 18, 2002 -- Emerging germs such as West Nile virus may be the greatest threat to the safety of the nation's blood supply, but they have an ally in bureaucracy, according to a report released today by the Advanced Medical Technology Association at a news conference.

According to the report, almost half of all hospitals do not apply for Medicare reimbursement for blood products and services, probably because the reimbursement procedures are outdated and cumbersome, says lead author Goodman, PhD, senior scientist at the Lewin Group.

The concern among physicians and healthcare workers is that financially-strapped hospitals will be less likely to invest in the new testing, screening, and purification technologies that help ensure that the blood supply is free of germs.

"We'll never get it all," says Goodman. "Pathogens evolve, new ones are introduced. That's why it's very important to be vigilant."

But the cost associated with the new technologies is rising, and Medicare may wait as long as two years before adjusting payments to reflect that, according to the report's authors.

At a time when emerging infectious diseases such as West Nile virus are an ongoing public health concern, such a lag could hamstring attempts to tightly monitor the blood supply.

Blood transfusions have long been associated with risk. The HIV epidemic tainted the blood supply in the 1980s, causing many thousands of infections, but the infection rate is now down to about 1 in a million thanks to screening efforts, says Paul Ness, MD, director of the transfusion medicine division at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

But Ness worries that complicated reimbursement procedures will discourage hospitals from investing in the new technologies that can prevent the spread of West Nile virus and other emerging pathogens. "My concern is that these methods are very expensive, and delaying reimbursement causes physicians and hospitals to resist the new technology," he says.

There are 30 such technologies in the current pipeline, says David Perez, president of Gambro BCT, a medical technology and healthcare company.

But the question remains: Will there be a market for them? If not, "industry will go elsewhere [away from blood supply products], where there is more profit," Ness says.

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