Newton Medical Center may be a community hospital in a small town in the Midwest, but it's being looked at by hospitals around the country as a pioneer in blood transfusion technology.

Ever since Robetta Trapp, director of diagnostic services, and Aaron Hurst, blood bank supervisor, spoke at the American Association of Blood Banks annual meeting and Cellular Therapy and Transfusion Medicine Expo on Oct. 14 in Denver, Newton Medical Center has been attracting national attention for its groundbreaking blood bank program.

"We're not a big university research facility with a lot of grant money, and yet we're achieving it," Trapp said.

The pair spoke about Newton Medical Center’s electronic blood bank system and the standardization of the bedside patient identification process in safely administering blood transfusions. A “blood bank” is basically a sophisticated refrigerator used to store blood for use in transfusions, and “blood banking” refers to the process of collecting and handling the blood for transfusions.

Because errors in the blood banking process can be fatal, it's a program Trapp and Hurst take very seriously.

Their electronic program replaces a more than 50-year-old system of paper documentation, making the blood banking process safer and cutting down on the possibility for human error. The system won't allow someone to skip a step or make a mistake.

"Once the system is in place, it doesn't err," Hurst said. "It does exactly the same thing every time."

NMC uses a technology called FinalCheck, a mechanical lock system that protects against an error such as taking blood to the wrong patient’s room. The system requires medical staff to perform certain tasks before they are allowed to give a patient a unit of blood.

Ahead of the curve

Although people might assume the technology NMC is using should be commonplace, Hurst and Trapp said there aren't many who are doing what NMC is.

Hurst said when he speaks to other health care facilities about the blood bank program, they often don't have any idea what he's talking about.

"We're so far out in front of everybody else here, that they can't even see it yet," he said.

A representative from a major university came up to him and told him he was just dealing with theory, but he told her the program actually had been in practice for more than five years.

"Her jaw dropped," Hurst said.

Other medical facilities want to start moving in the same direction as NMC. Trapp said normally at conferences, people come and go during workshops, but no one left during her and Hurst's presentation.

"All the people that attended stayed throughout the entire time," she said. "They were interested in what we were sharing."

National response

Since the presentation, Trapp and Hurst have been notified of opportunities for other speaking engagements or publishing opportunities.

The medical director of the regional American Red Cross — which supplies blood for NMC — asked them to submit a proposal for a 90-minute presentation at a future American Association of Blood Banks meeting, and a representative for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked them to submit a best practices article. A representative from the Washington, D.C., office of the American Red Cross expressed an interest in the transfusion safety committee at NMC and wants NMC to share what they've learned with Red Cross medical directors. Staff from a hospital in Hastings, Neb., have asked to visit NMC to see the program in action.

"It's exhilarating, but it's very humbling," Trapp said of the response to the presentation.

Trapp and Hurst said their ultimate goal isn't to attract attention to their work; they want to see hospitals across the country improve patient safety and benefit the industry as a whole.

Hurst also thanked the hospital's board and administration staff for their support and for giving his department the freedom to innovate in a time when many hospitals are struggling with staff and funding cuts.

"This wouldn't have been possible (without them)," he said.