Skip to main content

How Do Blood Banks Work?

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

Blood Banks Manage Blood Collections

This is what units of whole blood look like.

This is what units of whole blood look like.

How to Donate Blood

Blood banks operate on volunteer donations only. In the early days of blood transfusion, when a patient needed blood, the family, and friends were notified to come to the hospital or clinic and donate their blood for that specific patient.

So many people were willing to donate their blood that the hospital or clinic often had more than they needed—and they would either have to give the blood to other patients or “bank” the blood for future needs. The science of storing and utilizing blood got better and better, and eventually, modern blood banks were brought into existence to handle the generous amount of blood that people were willing to donate.

Today, when someone wishes to be a blood donor, all they have to do is go to a local blood bank and spend an hour giving a unit of life-saving blood, plasma, or platelets. One unit of donated blood can produce up to five units of blood components that may save the life of a patient or patients in need.

The Blood Donor Experience

Blood donors are exceptional people. They give generously of themselves, their time, and their blood. They must undergo a rigorous exam and written history just to be qualified to donate. The initial exam involves disclosing sexual history, travel history, and physical history.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has carefully regulated the blood banking industry. They require many tests and conditions for blood banks. The goal of the FDA is to ensure that the nation's blood supply is safe.

After the donor has passed the required tests determined by the FDA and other regulatory agencies, the donor is escorted to a donor station. The stations differ depending on the type of donation, but for a unit of whole blood, the area consists of a reclining chair or comfortable stretcher. The technician or technologist cleans the area for the phlebotomy and inserts the rather large gauge needle, which will funnel the blood into a plastic donor bag pretreated with the necessary anticoagulants. The bag is on a scale, and the phlebotomy will stop when a certain weight of blood is obtained. The tech will periodically mix the blood with the anticoagulants to keep the blood from clotting.

After the tech removes the phlebotomy equipment, the donor is observed for a while. A pressure bandage is applied to the puncture site and held in place with tape. After this observation period, if all is well, the donor is released to go get cookies and juice, and the unit of blood is on its way to save a life.

The Blood Banking Process

  1. The donor unit contains special bar codes that follow the unit throughout its lifetime. These can be compared to lot numbers, although the physical bags and tubing also have lot numbers.
  2. Pilot bags containing the bar-coded information are used to separate and contain the various components of the blood, such as red cells, white cells, platelets, plasma, and cryopricipitate (a clotting factor found in blood).
  3. Each component carries specific storage information—red cells are stored at 7 °C (refrigerated); platelets are stored at 37 °C (room temperature); plasma and cryopricipitate are stored at -30 °C (frozen).
  4. Each donor unit and component has divided tubing attached called segments or “pigtails” which are used for the various laboratory tests that must be run before the unit can be released for use in hospitals or clinics.
  5. The FDA has determined a series of tests that must be passed before it can be labeled as safe to use. These tests are for blood group and type, infectious or transmissible diseases and hemoglobin content, among others.
  6. After the units have passed, they are stored properly and tracked forever. The unit is then released for distribution to whoever requests and needs the blood.
  7. A typical unit of blood will be requested by an area hospital for transfusion purposes. The hospital must repeat all compatibility tests and save the tracking information before giving it to a patient.
  8. Hospitals may even have their own blood bank system or a mini system for transfusion services. Daily inventories ensure that each unit of blood is utilized effectively or discarded in a biohazard container. Since the advent of modern blood banks, very little blood is wasted.

Typical Donor Screening Questions

  • Are you feeling healthy today?
  • Have you read the educational materials?
  • Have you taken aspirin in the last few weeks?
  • Are you pregnant or have you delivered recently?
  • Have you donated within the last 8 weeks?
  • Do you have any communicable diseases?
  • Do you have any medical issues currently?
  • Have you been outside the U.S.A. or Canada?
  • Have you been exposed to any infectious diseases?
  • Have you been exposed to HIV or AIDS?
  • Have you had sexual contact with a prostitute or a drug addict?
  • Have you had contact with anyone diagnosed with hepatitis?
  • Have you had a tattoo?
  • Have you had homosexual contact or contact with someone who has?
  • Have you had an ear or body piercing?
  • Have you ever received a blood transfusion?

Where to Find a Blood Bank in Your Area

A Google search for “_________ (your town) blood banks” will reveal your local blood centers. In Austin, where I live, there are three centers for donating blood and one center for selling plasma to be used for commercial purposes.

Blood banks do not pay you for blood donations, as this is against the FDA rules. All blood donations in the U.S. are from volunteers only. There is a sound safety reason for this. Volunteer donors tend to be philanthropic and less likely to be drug addicts or engage in risky behavior.

Rewards for Donating Blood

Blood banks do reward their loyal donors. They provide cookies, juice, and other treats for your enjoyment after donation. They provide movies or videos to watch while the donation is in progress.

Blood banks usually have some type of recognition program for repeat donors. They keep track of all blood donated and when you reach certain amounts you are inducted into the “gallon” club. When you have donated a gallon of blood, you will be awarded a t-shirt, mug or other reward to recognize that accomplishment.

Plus, you get the warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with giving of yourself—and perhaps saving a life or two.

Working at a Blood Bank

  • Blood banks need highly skilled technical personnel to work with and test all blood donations. A technologist or Medical Laboratory Scientist specializing in the field of immunohematology is in great demand by blood banks and hospitals.
  • Technicians are also in demand for handling the blood collections and processing the units of blood.
  • Delivery drivers are hired to shuttle the blood between various hospitals and clinics.
  • Clerical personnel are needed to do intake interviews and keep track of all the required information required for regulatory agencies.
  • Housekeeping personnel are hired to keep the draw stations and labs squeaky clean at all times.
Scroll to Continue

Read More From Healthproadvice

Of Course I'm A Blood Donor Blood Donation Awareness Ribbon T-Shirt

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2012 Lela

Comments - What are your thoughts on donating blood to a blood bank?

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on May 10, 2012:

Hi Mo! I've been a type 2 diabetic for 20 years now and can not donate blood because of the medication I take. It's up to your doctor and the blood bank as to whether you can donate or not.

If your diabetes is under control and you are not on certain meds, then yes, you can donate. You may have to get a letter from your physician.

The easiest way to find out is to go offer to donate. They will take your information and tell you straight out if you can donate or if you have a deferral.

Deferrals can be permanent or temporary. Since this info changes constantly, I can't say one way or the other about an individuals ability to donate. Just give it a shot and see what happens!

Motown2Chitown on May 10, 2012:

Ms. Lela, this hub is so completely awesome! I love learning about things like this. Can you tell me...can a type 2 diabetic donate blood? I seem to get a different answer from everyone I ask.

Krystal from Los Angeles on May 06, 2012:

What a great topic :) You handled this hub like a pro!

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on May 03, 2012:

Thanks Lela, I'll will check into this as I do feel that donating blood is very necessary and it always used to make me feel good being able to do so.

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on May 03, 2012:

I think you are good to go. If you have been cancer free for 20 years, that is totally awesome!

The blood transfusion may have affected your health, but after 21 years, I don't think it would trigger a deferment.

The rules change all the time though and now that we have a confirmed case of Mad Cow (Creutzfeld-Jacobs disease) in California, they may totally halt all blood donations in that state.

It's going to get harder and harder to donate, but the need for blood is going to get higher and higher due to the aging population.

Give it a shot one day and find out about whether your local blood bank can accept your donation. Thank you for just wanting to do so!

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on May 03, 2012:

I used to donate blood all the time. Have two questions for you. If you've had cancer but have been cancer free for over 20 years are you allowed to donate blood? I had a blood transfusion when my twins were born. Would that make me unable to donate? ... they're almost 24 now.

Anastasia Kingsley from Croatia, Europe on May 02, 2012:

Hi, Diogenes, yes, I've heard that too - maybe it's still true. Of course you have to be healthy. There are some people who can hardly wait til their 3 weeks (or so) are up so they can go in and sell some more blood.

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on May 02, 2012:

Blood banks will use any excuse for a donation party! I wonder how much blood is needed for the olympics?

Are you going to write some hubs about the festivities?

Christopher Antony Meade from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom on May 02, 2012:

Thanks for a very useful and interesting article. There is always a shortage of blood so it is certainly a good thing to give it when you can.

There is a big blood drive here at the moment in advance of The Olympics.

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on May 02, 2012:

Blood banks are not allowed to pay donors. There are some plasma donor centers that pay people to donate plasma, but that will be sterilized and used for reagents and other things besides transfusion into sick people.

It amazes me too Euro! I'm grateful that they do this, but I don't get it personally. I tried to donate once and fainted dead away. Not from the needle or the sight of blood, but my blood pressure just went down too much. I was supposedly young and healthy at the time.

Donating blood actually stimulates your bone marrow to make fresh blood, so it's actually good for you!

Anastasia Kingsley from Croatia, Europe on May 02, 2012:

Hi Austin Star, nice graphics. Donating blood is very popular in Australia, too - I was amazed at how diligent citizens are at going in on a regular basis. Voted Up and Useful, ECAL

diogenes from UK and Mexico on May 02, 2012:

I was a donor in the can. Nothing to it. In the States they pay people, or did. Then resell the blood.


Related Articles