Research & Insights

Every Little Bit Counts: How to increase blood donations

As the nation’s eyes turn toward Orlando, many are left searching for ways to help. For people living in Florida, donating blood has been a way to show support and unity with those impacted by this terrorist hate crime.

Donating blood is massively important during times of emergency, but it’s just as important on days not following a national crises. Indeed, even before Sunday’s horrific events, blood banks in Florida were at critically low levels, which means that patients who need transfusions are sometimes unable to get them.

Attracting blood donors that have never given before is especially important for keeping a steady supply available to hospitals and crisis centers. For this reason, Psychologist Saharnaz Balegh and her colleagues examined what encourages first-timers to donate.

In the study, the researchers conducted an experiment involving 244 young adults who were healthy enough to donate but had never given blood before.

They first surveyed participants regarding their thoughts about giving blood and whether they intended to become donors.

Then, they exposed the participants to one of three experimental treatments to see whether they could increase participants’ intentions to give blood by making them feel more equipped to donate.

The researchers had participants wait twenty minutes between the first and second surveys. They asked the first group to spend the twenty minutes online looking at the UK’s National Blood Service (NBS) website, paying particular attention to the stories of people who had been saved with donated blood and a page showing a “virtual tour” of a blood donation facility. The researchers asked the second and third groups to split their time, spending the first ten minutes on the NBS site. The second group went on to participate in a ten-minute training session with tips for relaxing during blood donation. The third group was trained in the applied tension (AT) technique for ten minutes. AT involves tightening and then relaxing different groups of muscles and is thought to help reduce the likelihood of feeling lightheaded or fainting during blood donation. The researchers gave a fourth group of participants no treatment, asking them instead to sit quietly for twenty minutes.

Then, the researchers divided the participants into two groups. They showed one group a short video about the blood donation process shot as though the viewer is a donor. If the participant had been given relaxation or AT training, the researchers asked them to practice their techniques during the video. Since other studies have confirmed that the videos produce mild anxiety and tension in people who are nervous about blood donation, participants would get an opportunity to see the benefits of the techniques. The other group saw no video.

Finally, the researchers had participants fill out a second survey on their attitudes toward donating blood and their intention to donate in the future.

All of the participants who had been asked to look at the NBS site – whether for the full twenty minutes or alongside training – expressed higher intentions to donate blood in the future. Participants who received relaxation training were even more likely to say they’d donate, and the AT-trained participants showed the highest intentions.

Saharnaz and colleagues suspect that this increase in willingness to become a blood donor is due to participants feeling more prepared to donate and more in control of the process after training. In other words, participants felt more confident in their ability to undergo donating blood without anything bad happening, so they were more willing to donate.

Interestingly, the researchers also found that seeing a video with a needle didn’t put people off donating. It’s possible that seeing the process play out helped desensitize participants who were frightened by needles by exposing them to their fear. “[T]his research suggests that it is not necessary to avoid such issues to increase blood donation and, in fact, it may be more useful to address them directly,” they note.

All of this is good news for communicators designing campaigns to increase blood donations. Although more research is needed to explore the best ways to leverage training materials, these results indicate that “it is possible to influence intention to give blood in a relatively brief period of time,” the researchers said. The key is helping people feel that they are in control and prepared to donate. By doing so, you can impact their intention to donate.

Even though most research studies don’t wrap up with a happy ending, this one proved to be the exception. “Although this is an anecdotal example, and it is possible this individual would have begun to donate in any case, it is interesting to note that one individual in the relaxation group went out and gave blood the same day they participated in the laboratory study and four other times during the year,” the researchers said.

Every little bit counts.


Posted: July 1, 2016
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