redOrbit Staff Wire Reports – Your Universe Online

Offering gift cards or other rewards to potential donors can increase the amount of blood provided for transfusions and other medical purposes without adverse safety effects, according to a new report published in Friday’s edition of the journal Science.

Economists from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM), and the University of Sydney assert that providing incentives such as gift cards, T-shirts, or time off from work can make a person more willing to donate blood. Furthermore, they call upon prominent blood collection organizations to reconsider their current opposition to these types of economic incentives as a means to encourage much-needed blood donations.

“Blood donation guidelines recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and many blood collection agencies are largely based on research that assessed only what study participants said they would do – not their observed behavior when donating blood. These are two very different things,” Nicola Lacetera, an assistant professor in UTM’s Department of Management, explained in a statement.

Lacetera and his colleagues write that much of those agencies’ opposition to incentive-based donor programs originates from the findings of uncontrolled studies that used non-random samples, as well as surveys and artificial scenarios based on hypothetical situations.

These types of tests have typically suggested that economic rewards can decrease intrinsic motivations to give blood, the researchers said, and could cause more individuals with viruses or infectious diseases to attempt to give blood simply for the incentives being offered.

However, the authors have issued a rebuttal based on field-based evidence from large, representative samples of actual donation events where rewards were provided in return. They and other researchers looked at incentive-based donation drives in the US, Argentina, Switzerland, and Italy.

“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,” Johns Hopkins University, home of study co-author Mario Macis, reported in a statement. “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; and a $10 gift card produced a 52 percent rise,” the Baltimore, Maryland-based university added. “The offer of gift cards even caused people to motivate others, including people who previously had never given blood, to donate. The incentives also induced regular donors to switch from their usual donation sites to locations where rewards would be available.”

In the new studies, the gift cards and other incentives were not given under the guise of payment for services rendered, and instead could have been looked upon as tokens of appreciation for their actions – a perspective which could actually reinforce altruistic motives rather than undermine them, according to the researchers.

Furthermore, Macis said that advances made in screening technology since the WHO guidelines were originally established have drastically reduced the risk of tainted or otherwise unusable blood being accepted for future transfusions. The Johns Hopkins professor also noted that such rewards could be used strategically, during holidays and other times when blood reserves tend to be at their lowest.

“To the extent that one-time incentives are able to modify people’s donation schedules, it can have some practical applications in terms of timing,” Lacetera said. “Since blood is typically in short supply, the basic issue is what can be done to improve donation rates while guaranteeing safety? Current guidelines that prohibit any form of reward will benefit from considering the more recent evidence and possibly reassessing their approach.”