Wednesday, November 18, 2015

To help Paris, donate blood... later (guest post by Carmen Wang)

Carmen Wang writes:

To help Paris, donate blood... later.

Paris needs blood donations in the aftermath of the Attacks, although not that much more than a typical Saturday (EFS press release). Real shortages, however, are very likely in the upcoming winter and holiday season. Market designers point out that blood donations, with kind intention, can happen at wrong times. Instead, would-be donors can register their names and availability with the blood service, and help later when blood is most needed.

Paris:
Long queues to donate blood everywhere 



EFS (French Blood Service) informing of enough blood supply and asking donors to come back later



Boston in 2013:
Various calls for blood donations after the Boston Marathon Bombing, for example


(Notice the time of this tweet and that of the next tweet)

The American Red Cross politely declining more blood donations



What happened in the two cities are not coincidences.

Similar phenomenon in blood donations has happened during so many disasters like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Victoria Bushfire in Australia. In severe cases, it leads to blood, the gift of life, being left expired on the shelf. However, in 'normal' times most countries suffer recurring blood shortages, especially during winter, due to the holiday season and that many regular donors are affected by cold and flu. Particularly this time in Paris, the winter is coming. The blood collected today will expire in a few weeks right at beginning of the winter months. Moreover, donors who donated today, when there is no real blood shortage, will not be able to donate in winter when shortages do occur. We can only donate blood approximately once every 3 months. Blood is so precious, so donate wisely.

The reason why the above phenomenon repeats itself across the world is because blood donations need to follow the demand for blood, but most people do not have the necessary information. In addition, other people's donations also affects the supply of blood in real time, which makes it impossible for an individual donor to decide whether it is a good time to donate blood. In Paris, we do want to help those who are injured in the Attacks, but not all donors need to respond at the same time. Too many donations can quickly lead to wasteful congestion and oversupply, and worse, potentially affect the blood supply immediately afterwards.

The solution is surprisingly simple, which is to set up a blood donation registry. People who want to help now can sign up in a registry, and commit to donate later when a blood shortage does occur. After all, a need for blood anytime is a need for blood. What difference does it make if it occurs during the Paris Attacks, Boston Marathon Bombing, Australia's Victoria Bushfire versus other 'ordinary' times? The blood service, which knows the need for blood at any given time, can contact donors in the registry to meet any excess demand for blood, and maintain an adequate level of blood supply in the long term. With the help of the registry, registered donors can be informed correctly not only when there is a potential shortage in aggregate, but more importantly, when their donations are needed and when others have donated enough. 
So to people in Paris, how about a registry in memory of Paris Attacks? The registry not only helps smooth out supply in disaster times, but also helps donors to stay informed, and donate whenever there is a need in normal times. And to donors anywhere in the world, the need for blood in your local area might be more than that in Paris as today. If you would've helped were you in Paris, maybe someone needs your help right now right around you.


More details, see paperSlonim, Robert, Carmen Wang, and Ellen Garbarino (2014). The Market for BloodThe Journal of Economic Perspectives, 28(2), 177-196.
And two upcoming working papers (inquire authors for more information)Slonim, Robert and Carmen Wang (2015), Market design for altruistic supply: Evidence from the Lab


Garbarino, Ellen, Stephanie Heger, Robert Slonim and Carmen Wang, Redesigning markets for blood donations: A blood donation registry

2 comments:

John Hodges said...

The American Red Cross blood donor app, released September 2014, is an existing mechanism by which existing, committed, repeat blood donors could be given timely information about need. Current media and curbside sign appeals are typically blanket, "Critical Need Now" and seem the norm, rather than the exception. What's a prospective donor to think? The app is available after first donation, so the large number of first time donors who respond when there is a media promoted tragedy would not be informed, but existing, currently eligible donors, could be accurately informed in real time of the time sensitive need for their blood type and blood product, whether whole blood, packed double red cells, platelets, or plasma. Those with already scheduled appointments could be accurately informed of an appropriate rescheduling suggestion if a surge of new or uninformed donors has created a temporary oversupply. Similarly, if there is a spike in need due to a crisis not well promoted in the media, accurate, timely, targeted alerts could be sent to those with the app. Disclosures: I am an ARC volunteer and platelet donor, I was an app explainer at the 2014 Fenway 9/11 blood drive, I volunteered at the first Fenway 9/11 blood drive in 2003, providing cold water bottles to the more than 1,800 people who came, more than 5 times the staff anticipated, and I volunteered at a tiny (goal 30), previously scheduled blood drive at a church in a suburb of Boston on 9/12 in 2001. I offered my cell phone to schedule a future appointment to the hundreds that waited patiently in the hot sun that day despite the certain knowledge the the tiny staff and small space meant they couldn't possibly donate at that location that day. For many, the need to take action, positive, life affirming action to refute such tragedy, is overwhelming and will not be subject to reason. They will go, and wait, and not reschedule. Their need is immediate, and is about them, not the eventual recipient of their donation. More accurate tracking of the need for blood in near real time, and communicating that information to the experienced donors who have a track record of being responsive to the ongoing needs of patients, may reduce the extent of publicized crises' surges of supply, and bring more donors in when unpublicized deficits occur, such as the predictable and lamentably underreported deficits in January and August. I applaud your proposal, and if this 39 year ARC volunteer and donor can help make it a reality, I'll happily partner with you. Best wishes for success!

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