Most patients transfused red blood cells in elective surgery receive small volumes of blood, which is likely to be discretionary and avoidable. We investigated the outcomes of patients who received a single unit of packed red blood cells during their hospital admission for an elective surgical procedure when compared to those not transfused.
This retrospective cohort study included elective surgical admissions to 4 hospitals in Western Australia over a 6-year period. Participants were included if they were at least 18 years of age and were admitted for elective surgery between July 2014 and June 2020. We compared outcomes of patients who had received 1 unit of red blood cells to patients who had not been transfused. To balance differences in patient characteristics, we weighted our multivariable regression models using the inverse probability of treatment. In addition to propensity score weighting, our multivariable regression models adjusted for hemoglobin level, surgical procedure, patient age, gender, comorbidities, and the transfusion of fresh-frozen plasma or platelets. Outcomes studied were hospital-acquired infection, hospital length of stay, and all-cause emergency readmissions within 28 days.
Overall, 767 (3.2%) patients received a transfusion of 1 unit of red blood cells throughout their admission. In the propensity score weighted analysis, the transfusion of a single unit of red blood cells was associated with higher odds of hospital-acquired infection (odds ratio, 3.94; 95% confidence interval [CI], 2.99–5.20; P < .001). Patients who received 1 unit of red blood cells throughout their admission were more likely to have a longer hospital stay (rate ratio, 1.57; 95% CI, 1.51–1.63; P < .001) and had 1.42 (95% CI, 1.20–1.69; P < .001) times higher odds of 28-day readmission.
These results suggest that avoidance of even small volumes of packed red blood cells may prevent adverse clinical outcomes. This may encourage hospital administrators to implement strategies to avoid the transfusion of even small volumes of red blood cells by applying patient blood management practices.