While bloodless surgery has become more and more of a mainstream practice in recent years, Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center remains the only hospital in the county to offer a bloodless medical program.
The Bloodless Medicine and Surgery Program was launched five years ago and annually treats about 300 patients, mainly Jehovah's Witnesses or others concerned about contracting AIDS or Hepatitis C through blood transfusions, according to Jorge Martinez, program manager.
(Most Jehovah's Witnesses demand bloodless medical procedures because their religious beliefs prohibit giving or receiving transfusions, according to the religion's Web site.)
But bloodless surgery has also gained recent attention because it can lower both hospital costs and health risks for patients.
It can be used for procedures such as general surgery, neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery or vascular surgery as well as in the treatment of cancer, cardiology (including open heart surgery) and diabetes.
The cost, though, for this procedure is about the same as a traditional surgical procedure, Martinez said. Although hospitals can save by not using blood for the transfusions, the higher cost for using substitute medications can even out the rate, he added.
Faster recovery times, financial savings and shorter hospital stays are also recognized as benefits of bloodless surgery, according to Sharp.
"Using bloodless technology, the overall cost is reduced," Martinez said. "There are no delays."
Costs can be reduced simply by the fact that patients don't spend as much time at the hospital in recovery, said Martinez. He did not have any data available specific to San Diego.
Patients can also avoid allergic reactions to blood used in transfusions, said Martinez.
The Web site for Bloodless Healthcare International Inc. shows 114 hospitals use the transfusion alternatives listed in its directory. Eighteen of the hospitals are located in California.
Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center is a 330-bed hospital located in the South Bay and is one of Sharp HealthCare's four acute-care hospitals within the county.
The hospital uses a range of blood conservation techniques and technologies, according to its Web site. Up to 60 physicians with 15 different specialties perform the medical procedures.
Physicians can lower a patient's blood pressure and temperature, use a cell saver machine which continues to circulate the blood or employ volume expanders to enhance circulation.
Harmonic Scalpels, argon beam coagulators and electrocautery, as well as the use of medications like NovoSeven, Aprotinin and Neumega can be used to stimulate clotting.
Martinez said that the majority of patients who have used the program are Jehovah's Witnesses. The religious sect reported slightly more than 1 million Jehovah's Witnesses in the United States in August, according to its Web site.
In the past few years, the number of bloodless surgeries at Sharp Chula Vista had increased slightly from 220 in its first year.
The program was introduced by Sharp Chula Vista Chief Executive Officer Chris Boyd and the vice president of patient support services and development, Dan Dredla, who had both started bloodless medicine programs at other hospitals.
"He (Boyd) feels very strongly about patients' rights," Martinez said. "And he also had seen the benefits of it."
Restructuring the transfusion strategy in hospital intensive care units across the country could produce a savings of $1 billion, Martinez said, because of the costs associated with red blood cell counts and transfusion complications.