Every 2 seconds in this country someone needs blood. As a physician, you understand the critical importance of blood donation to help ensure all patients can get the care they need when they need it most. But do your patients understand how crucial it is for them to donate blood, to help keep the whole system running efficiently and effectively?
Physicians can and should encourage patients to give blood. Blood saves lives. It could save the life of your patient, or the life of someone they love and care about. Without donors, there is no blood.
Considering only 3 percent of the U.S. population gives blood, there’s a lot of room for improvement. To help educate your patients about blood donation, we’ve created an FAQ of top questions about donating blood for you to share and discuss in hopes they’ll plan to make giving blood a priority in 2023 — if they haven’t already.
When I donate blood, what is it used for?
Donated blood is used for patients of all ages — infants to seniors — and in a wide variety of medical situations. You probably think of car accidents and surgery as times when someone would need blood. And that’s right, they do. But there are so many more reasons. Burn victims, women giving birth, trauma patients, and patients with cancer, sickle cell disease, blood disorders, or other chronic diseases also need blood.
Are certain types of blood needed more than others?
If you’re interested in donating blood, don’t worry about your blood type — blood is always needed! That said, yes, there are blood types that are in high demand. So if you have a high-demand blood type, that’s all the more reason to consider giving blood, or even consider giving blood more often. Blood type O is usually in high demand and short supply. Why? O positive is the most common blood type, and O negative is considered the “universal” type for emergencies. Only 7 percent of the U.S. population has O negative blood. If you know you have a rare blood type, that makes giving blood even more important for you, so you can help contribute to the blood supply.
Who can give blood?
There are some requirements for giving blood, for the safety of donors as well as patients. In Virginia, donors must be 17 years old — or 16 with parental consent. Donors should also weigh more than 110 pounds. In addition to being in good general health, you should also feel good, meaning you should not give blood when you’re feeling sick like with a cold or the flu. Donors can give blood every 56 days up to 6 times a year. There are additional considerations around your health, your medications, your immunizations, and international travel, all of which can be discussed with your doctor or when you are being screened prior to giving blood.
Can I give blood if I have a tattoo or piercing?
Yes! It’s a common myth that you can’t give blood if you have a tattoo or piercing. In Virginia, if you have a tattoo from a state-regulated or facility using sterile single-use equipment, you’re good to go as soon as the site has healed. With ear or body piercing, you also need to have received your piercing in a professional setting using sterile single-use equipment.
There is a 3-month wait if you got your tattoo outside the U.S. or, in some cases, outside of Virginia. In fact, our neighbor Washington D.C. is one of the areas that will trigger the 3-month waiting period. If you’re interested in donating blood, your tattoos and piercings can be discussed with your doctor or when you are being screened prior to giving blood.
Where can I give blood?
The best place to find a blood drive near you is visit the American Red Cross website at www.redcrossblood.org and search by your zip code. Many schools, businesses, neighborhoods, civic organizations, and other groups host the American Red Cross for blood donation on a regular basis.
With more education as well as more encouragement from you, hopefully more of your patients will choose to give blood and help save lives in 2023 — and will make giving blood a priority for years to come.
Michele A. Nedelka, MD
The information contained in this blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute healthcare advice.