Friday, May 24, 2013

Economic rewards to motivate blood donations, by Lacetera, Macis and Slonim

This just out in Science: Economic rewards to motivate blood donations. It suggests that old conclusions need to be revisited based on new evidence.

"The position and guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO) and several national blood collection agencies for nearly 40 years have been based on the view that offering economic incentives to blood donors is detrimental to the quantity and safety of the blood supply (1). The guidelines suggest that blood should be obtained from unpaid volunteers only (2). However, whether economic incentives positively or negatively affect blood donations (and other prosocial activities) has remained the subject of debate since the positions were established (2–8).

"Evidence consistent with the WHO position came originally from uncontrolled studies using nonrandom samples and, subsequently, from surveys and laboratory studies indicating that economic incentives can “crowd out” (decrease) intrinsic motivations to donate and can attract “worse” donors (9). This evidence arguably affected policies, such as bans on compensation for blood and organ donations in many countries.
"With a few early exceptions based on small, nonrepresentative samples (12), field trial evidence on how economic incentives affect blood donations has been absent. But field-based evidence from large, representative samples has recently emerged. The results are clear and, on important questions, opposite to the uncontrolled studies, surveys, and laboratory evidence preceding them."

"In light of the recent evidence, it is time to re-examine policy guidelines for increasing and smoothing blood supply, including whether incentives can play a role. There are efforts under way from different parts of society toward using rewards to increase donations. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' 2012 ruling legalizing compensation for bone marrow donations through apheresis was initiated by private individuals (32). A company prompted a 2010 European Court of Justice ruling that allowed importation of blood products obtained from compensated donors (33). Researchers and clinicians have noted that some WHO guidelines (e.g., emphasis on exclusive use of nonremunerated donors and centralizing blood collection organizations) are unintentionally adversely affecting blood collection in sub-Saharan Africa (34).

"In addition to economic incentives, policy-makers should consider nonpecuniary rewards (e.g., symbolic and with social recognition) and various appeals. Debates on ethical issues around giving rewards for donations (35) should be encouraged. But there should be little debate that the most relevant empirical evidence shows positive effects of offering economic rewards on donations."


Highgamma said...

Perhaps the Red Cross will deal with their foolish policies regarding not accepting donations from people with hemochromatosis. The idea that people who need to get rid of blood to avoid iron overload are not true "altruistic" donors is ridiculous.

David Curran said...

Fascinating post. Blood transfusion services do not seem very interested in incentives to donate.

I created a Facebook game 'Blood Banker' last Saturday to encourage blood donation. The idea is to use peoples friendship networks to personalise who donation might help. We won 'most valuable game' in the Dublin Gamecraft competition.

My writeup to the game is here
and the game demo itself is at

The thing is I can't get any blood transfusion service to talk to me about the game. There is no point developing it further without their input. But they seem really uninterested in novel ways to encourage blood donation.