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RESEARCH STUDY UPDATE: Why do donors lapse? Findings from interviews with whole blood donors

What was the question?

The Donor Research team asked the question ‘why do some donors lapse while others remain active?’ We wanted to develop a clearer understanding of the motivations and barriers to blood donation among a range of whole blood donors.

Why is it important?

There is an ongoing need to maintain the blood donor panel to meet patient needs. The most cost-effective way of doing this is to prevent donors from lapsing and to bring existing lapsed donors back into the active donor panel. Information about donors’ motivators and barriers helps us to develop suitable strategies.

What did we do?

We contacted three groups of whole blood donors and asked them if they would like to participate in a telephone interview:

  • Current whole blood donors
  • Lapsing whole blood donors (last donation was 13-23 months ago)
  • Lapsed whole blood donors (last donation was 24-35 months ago)

Participants were asked about their donation history, why they started donating, motivations for continuing to donate, their last donation experience, barriers to donating and their view on the communication they received form the blood service. A total of 56 whole blood donors were interviewed.

What did we find out?

Motivators

Most participants began donating whole blood because they believed it was a ‘good thing to do’ to help others and their community. They also told us that their first donation was often due to convenience, such as donating with a group from work.

Participants indicated that these initial motivators were still relevant to them. Even donors who had not donated in more than two years considered blood donation to be a positive and helpful act.

I guess it was like a really…easy way to do something good for someone else, it didn’t require a lot of effort to go into the donation centre and just do your bit.

(Male, lapsed infrequent donor, aged 23)

This tells us that when donors lapse it is not necessarily due to a change in their motivation.

Barriers

Despite expressing positive intentions to donate, participants did highlight several barriers:

 Time and Convenience: the ease of getting to a donor centre or mobile unit, finding the time to donate and time it takes to make a whole blood donation were commonly reported barriers to donating again.

So, it’s usually just time, and not necessarily time in the chair, just getting to the place. The entire experience.

 (Male, current infrequent donor, aged 24)

Appointment flexibility and opening hours: donors who worked irregular hours or shift work found it less convenient to donate blood as they could not book appointments in advance and could not make it to a donor centre during opening hours.

Well, being a casual worker … it's either the night before or 6.00 am on the morning whether I'm working or not. So often, there’s been times when you think, well, I've got a free day and I can't get an appointment at my preferred centre….There's an assumption everyone can see a week ahead, which I can't actually. That's one barrier.

(Female, lapsing infrequent donor, aged 55)

Deferrals: donors who had received a temporary deferral were often uncertain as to when they were eligible to return to donate, and reported the deferral caused a disruption in their donation routine. Additionally, some donors made a conscious effort to ‘self-defer’ because they thought it would benefit their own health and well-being, or because they already had some understanding of deferrals that would likely apply to them.

I…went away a couple of times and because I was overseas in Asian countries, I had to wait. And then I had a couple of trips like that, so I've sort of got off the bandwagon so to speak.

(Female, lapsing infrequent donor, aged 51)

Lapsed donors expressed similar barriers to donation as current donors, including inconvenience. However lapsed donors discussed significant life events or changes that had prevented them from donating for a longer period of time. A small number of lapsed and lapsing donors believed that the barriers to donating had become too large and they did not want to return.

All donors we interviewed were happy with the frequency of contact by the Blood Service and supported being contacted by email or SMS.

What are the next steps?

This study is one of a series that aims to provide a fuller picture of why donors lapse, including an exploration of the effect of deferrals from both staff and donor points of view. Results from these studies will be used to find ways to encourage our donors back into a life-saving habit.

If you would like more information about this study or the larger deferral project, please contact Carley Gemelli (cgemelli@redcrossblood.org.au).

We would like to thank all of the donors who participated in this study.

 

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