Saturday, July 16, 2011

Keeping Our Blood Supply Chain Safe for Health Care Through Operations Management

My doctoral student, Amir Masoumi, and I have been deeply researching blood supply chains, a supply chain of a highly perishable product, with life-saving properties.

What makes the modeling and analysis of this health care supply chain so challenging is not only its perishability, but also that there is risk associated with its procurement (on bad weather days, for example, potential donors may decide not to give blood whereas during disasters there may be an outpouring of willing donors).

The safety of the blood supply also requires proper testing and, at times, it may be difficult to predict the demand, resulting in shortages, for example, with associated costs. An oversupply of blood, on the other hand, requires proper waste disposal of outdated blood.

There is now a blood supply shortage gripping the United States.

As noted in the Herald, under federal law, whole blood can be stored for up to 42 days. However, some studies have found that patients who receive blood stored even for a couple of weeks are more likely to suffer infections, cardiovascular problems and even organ failure, particularly those who use several units of older blood.

A new paper, published yesterday in the journal Critical Care Medicine, explaining why this is so -- found that stored red blood cells begin to lose the ability to release a key molecule called adenosine-5’-triphosphate (ATP), which helps prevent the cell from sticking to the walls of blood vessels.

However, before researchers determine how to boost levels of ATP in older blood to make such blood safer, it is important to be able to analyze the risk and perishability of blood in its complete supply chain along with the costs which must include potential unmet demand as well as waste.

We now have two papers on this subject, the first, Supply Chain Network Operations Management of a Blood Banking System with Cost and Risk Minimization, Anna Nagurney, Amir H. Masoumi, and Min Yu, focuses on optimizing the operations of the blood supply chain, whereas the second, Supply Chain Network Design of a Sustainable Blood Banking System, Anna Nagurney and Amir H. Masoumi, to appear in Sustainable Supply Chains: Models, Methods and Public Policy Implications, T. Boone, V. Jayaraman, and R. Ganeshan, Editors, Springer, London, England, 2011, in press, demonstrates how to design (or redesign the blood supply chain).

By doing out best to optimize this life-saving, scarce resource, in a holistic manner, we can save lives.