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Offering Economic Incentives to Attract Blood Donations Should Be Encouraged, Research Team writes in Science

Baltimore, MD (PRWEB) May 23, 2013

Can economic incentives such as gift cards, T-shirts, and time off from work motivate members of the public to increase their donations of blood?

A team of researchers including Johns Hopkins Carey Business School Assistant Professor Mario Macis says the answer is an emphatic yes. Pointing to a large body of recent research that supports their argument, the three economists write in the May 24, 2013, issue of Science that the World Health Organization and national blood collection agencies should reconsider their opposition to economic incentives for much-needed donations of blood.

Macis and his colleagues -- Nicola Lacetera of the University of Toronto and Robert Slonim of the University of Sydney – state that such opposition has been based on uncontrolled studies using non-random samples. These and other tests typically have suggested that economic incentives can decrease intrinsic motivations to donate and can attract blood donations of dubious quality.

But now field-based evidence from large, representative samples are available, the authors write, and the results clearly refute the previous findings. They cite the work of other researchers, as well as their own extensive work in this area. In one of their studies, the three authors examined individual data from nearly 100,000 donors at 72 American Red Cross blood drives in northern Ohio from September 2009 through August 2010. Gift cards were offered at half of the blood-drive sites; no incentives were provided at the other sites, which served as controls for the study.

They found that an advertised offer of a $5 gift card increased the likelihood of giving among people with a history of donating by 26 percent; a $10 gift card produced a 52 percent rise; and a $15 card caused an uptick of 72 percent.

The offer of gift cards even caused people to motivate others to donate, including people who previously had never given blood. The incentives also induced regular donors to switch from their usual donation sites to locations where rewards would be available.

Meantime, said Macis, advances in screening technology have greatly reduced the risk of tainted or otherwise unusable blood being used later in transfusions.

Macis also noted that incentives could be strategically employed to attract blood donations at times when blood supplies are particularly low, such as holidays and summer months. Although many individuals are eligible to donate blood, only a small percentage of eligible individuals, less than 10 percent, donate blood in the United States. As a consequence, blood supply shortages, as defined by the supply of blood being below what is necessary for three days, have become the norm rather than the exception.

“This raises the question of whether pure altruism is sufficient to guarantee a sufficient, steady supply of blood,” Macis said in an interview.

Moreover, he added, the research has implications beyond blood reserves. It suggests that some form of compensation, though on a greater scale, could bring a much-needed boost to the supplies of organs, body parts, and bone marrow for transplants.

Selling blood, organs, and body parts for cash is illegal in the United States. However, donors of blood plasma can be paid. Also, a federal appellate court ruled Dec. 1, 2011, that most donors of bone marrow can receive compensation, overturning a law that had made such arrangements punishable by up to five years in prison.

The three authors conclude in their Science article, which appears in the magazine’s “Policy Forum” section: “Debates on ethical issues around giving rewards for donations are inevitable and should be encouraged. But there should be little debate that the most relevant empirical evidence shows positive effects of offering economic rewards on donations.”

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