DOD upgrades system for tracking donated blood

An upgrade of the computer system that the Defense Department uses to manage the thousands of gallons of blood it collects each year should make it easier to plan for military missions and improve the quality of blood supplies.

The new version of the 3-year-old Defense Blood Standard System (DBSS), deployed last month, runs on the Microsoft Corp. Windows NT platform. It will enable system designers to add features and interfaces that might have been more difficult to add under the previous version, which ran on an older version of the Unix platform.

As the system gains more functionality, it should help DOD provide better health care, said Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Sparks, the DBSS program manager. "Better documentation [and] faster retrieval of information allow us to take better care of patients," she said.

DOD, working with contractor Electronic Data Systems Corp., aims to build interfaces with other federal systems for managing blood, such as the system used by the Department of Veterans Affairs. DOD also hopes the system eventually will be able to interface with laboratory instruments for testing blood, thereby helping to eliminate human error.

"Instead of having to transcribe all of the tests that we do, what we would like to do is build an interface between DBSS and lab instrumentation," Sparks said. "You're basically not having humans enter thousands of lab results."

Sparks said DOD annually collects about 130,000 pints of blood. The new system already tracks information — such as blood type, donation date, test results and information on when the blood is used or destroyed — for each unit of blood donated.

The system also gives DOD leaders a snapshot of the blood supplies and blood types they have on hand, said Chip Taylor, EDS' program manager for DBSS.

Moreover, at the individual patient level — not just at the battle-planning level — the system should prove a valuable analytical tool because it will host a wealth of information on each unit of blood. "Anything that you can do to blood, this system needs to be able to handle," Taylor said.

For example, having detailed information on each unit of blood should allow DOD to "look back" to find the sources of disease if a blood transfusion should lead to human immunovirus or some other illness spread through blood, said George Cunningham, an EDS engineer who works on the DBSS project.

Moreover, the system will help DOD locate contaminated blood if a donor later tests positive for a disease transmitted by blood, Sparks said. "Because of a better information system, there is less likelihood that something like [contaminated blood being transfused] would occur in the first place," Sparks said. The system also will track when donors are allowed to give blood again.

DOD started putting together requirements for DBSS in 1991. Before DBSS, each site that collected, stored or used blood had varying methods of recording information, and paper figured prominently in the process, Taylor said. By 1996, DOD and EDS had developed a system that could interface with the Composite Health Care System, which is the core system that the department uses to manage information on its patients.

The latest version of DBSS, Version 3, was fielded to 85 DOD sites in recent months. The deployment of the new system was completed in mid-February. Architects of DBSS hope to integrate more features into the system as it involves.

For example, EDS would like to create one full-service system that can print bar coded blood-bag labels to make tracking information on each unit of blood easier. Currently, a stand-alone system prints labels.

Ultimately, the new system will enable mission planners to garner better information on one of the key materials needed for any military engagement. "In going to war, you need basically four things: bodies, beans, bullets and blood," Taylor said.

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