​Red Cross using data to predict critical blood supply

With an encompassing view of its donors, Red Cross Blood Services Australia wants to reach a point where it can guarantee blood to everyone who needs it, using data to its advantage.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Earlier this year, northern Australia was hit by tropical cyclone Debbie. With wind gusts reaching 263 kilometres per hour, Debbie caused significant damage to houses, businesses, and tourist attractions. At the same time, northern New South Wales was hit by flooding; and within the space of a month, Melbourne's CBD was shaken by a shooting.

Those three events had a severe impact on Australia's blood supply, with Red Cross Blood Services Australia executive director of Donor Services Janine Wilson recalling a victim of one of these events who particularly stood out.

"One of those patients was O Negative, which is a universal blood type and always in demand," she explained.

"That single patient needed so much blood that they literally drained the national supply. All of a sudden, we had this acute demand."

The three events took out dozens of mobile donation clinics, prevented scheduled donors from giving blood, and saw those injured using the blood without it being replenished as it is usually.

While not all of these situations can be predicted, Wilson wants her not-for-profit organisation to reach a point where it can predict and prepare to have enough blood and plasma on hand to get through such situations without a care.

"We try and predict patient demand, we do a decent job of it, but we don't always get it right," she explained. "But because of the short shelf life, it's actually critical to know the donors we need."

The Red Cross tracks trends such as seasonal differences and engages closely with hospitals around the country, pulling data in from almost everywhere.

"You can get a new liver surgeon in who can change the profile of the hospital's blood usage overnight -- so we try and track those types of things and then aggregate them," she added. "And with a reasonable level of accuracy, we can predict fresh blood consumption, but platelets, for example, [are] very difficult, short shelf life, hard to predict."

The organisation's digital transformation journey has been centred on trying to get better at getting the right donor in the right place at the right time.

"It sounds easy, but you have to have the right gender of person with the right blood type for the right product, and that product has a short shelf life. If it's plasma, it lasts five days, so I need it on exactly the right day; and if it's red cell, it only has a life of 42 days," she explained.

"So the challenge is how do we engage in a more meaningful way with our donors to ensure that they behave in the way we want them to. The tricky part of our business is we're actually -- and I don't like to say this -- a manufacturing business. We manufacture biological products, except unlike most manufacturers, our raw material doesn't just arrive in batches ready to go; our raw material gets sick, gets cranky, forgets its appointment, doesn't want to come today, and so on."

Prior to this year, tracking, trend analysis, and the overall view of who its donors are was a tiresome process -- none of the Red Cross channels spoke to each other, and the organisation fell victim to the leak of a 1.74GB MySQL database backup containing 1.3 million rows and 647 different tables in October last year.

The organisation adopted Oracle 360 in February, but it took a cultural change to allow that to happen.

"This is a big innovation for our company: It's cloud based, it's cutting edge, convincing the business we needed a 360-degree view of the donor in order to be able to engage with them more successfully took a little while, but now that it's in, we kind of go, 'well, of course'," Wilson told journalists at an Oracle customer roundtable in Sydney.

"There's 2,000 people that need to use the solution, that's one element, but actually they need to behave a bit differently, too."

She said there is no point in having a complete view of the donor if it isn't going to be used to its full advantage. The staff member greeting the donor can now see how many times they have donated, and with some people donating hundreds of times, Wilson said it can be very disengaging if no one says anything to them about their contribution.

Despite being in the business of blood, information pertinent to the process had been buried in its previous CRM, such as a donor's blood type.

"Most of my staff are nurses, don't come with skills in this area, it's much more clinical -- but in fact, we're trying to create an experience that's not clinical ... it actually acts a little bit more retail," she added.

The Red Cross already aims for a seamless service delivery with its donors, hiding the heavy medical machinery and blood from sight where it can.

"As our research says, even blood donors don't want to see blood," she said.

"Creating that experience within a workforce who have grown up in the hospital system is challenging and ... we're still on that journey."

The organisation has even added a non-nursing workforce to make some of the transformation easier.

"I'm excited by the next phase now we have the tools to make it more personal, but I now have a culture change to go along with that," she said.

Looking forward, the Red Cross will be launching a donor portal later this year, allowing donors to self-serve based on the organisation's direction.

"With all the great reporting tools that sit underneath it, we'll be able to generate the right behaviour [from donors]," she said. "Ultimately, our overall mission is to make sure that all Australians have the right blood on the right day."

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