The American Red Cross will continue to hold blood drives on the UA campus this summer. To make a blood donation appointment, visit www.redcrossblood.org or call 520-230-7295.
Sending text message or email reminders to people who have volunteered to donate blood might increase donor turnout to campus blood drives, University of Arizona students have found.
The students designed and conducted the experiment as part of a class, Evidence-based Medicine (or ECOL 379), taught by Joanna Masel of the UA department of ecology and evolutionary biology.
The goal of the class was to provide students an opportunity to develop critical thinking skills necessary to design and execute the scientific method, especially as it relates to medicine.
"In most science classes, there's so much difficult knowledge that it's very hard for students to learn all of the content and learn the scientific method at the same time," said Masel. "I wanted to teach a class that really focuses just on the scientific method."
One of the projects the students elected to do was an experiment to test whether sending text message or email reminders to blood drive volunteers would increase volunteer turnout the day of the blood drive.
"We're doing a randomized trial," said Elizabeth Cox, whose idea it was to do a project that could help out with the campus blood drives. Cox is president-elect of the UA Red Cross Club associated with the American Red Cross in Southern Arizona.
Cox graduated from Arizona State University in 2007 with a degree in psychology and now is taking science prerequisites for medical school. "I thought there would be many small aspects to this project in which everyone could participate," she said.
The students were excited about the project because of its relevance to both a real-world cause and to the campus community, said Masel.
American Red Cross members usually recruit volunteer donors on the UA Mall and hope the volunteers will show up to their appointments the day of the blood drive, said Masel.
For the experiment, the students asked volunteers to sign wavers giving their permission to be sent a text or an email reminder about their appointment. The volunteers then were divided into two groups: a control group that was sent no reminder, and an experimental group that received either a text or an email the day of the blood drive.
"We'd like to increase the rate of people showing up to appointments," said Cox. "One donation can save up to three lives," Cox added, so every volunteer who comes to donate blood is essential.
The results showed an improvement with the reminders, said Pete Alonge, a senior majoring in biochemistry and a member of Masel's class. "It wasn't statistically significant, but it was successful," he said.
The turnout rate of volunteers who signed up to donate blood went from an average of 50 percent, and exactly 50 percent in the control group, to 61 percent in the group that received text or email reminders.
Shelby Wendel, a UA junior and microbiology major, said she participates in blood drives regularly: "It's a small thing that I can do to really help out," she said. Wendel participated in the study's experimental group that received text or email reminders. "I have missed appointments before and the reminder was helpful," she said.
Masel said she didn't expect the students to get statistically significant or publishable results from the class project. "If one year they do get results that will be awesome, but the intention is entirely to have them learn research methods," she said.
"There's a lot of learning that goes on in the process of actually doing rather than just proposing projects. I think that when the students actually do a project, they realize how many small decisions there are, and how important some of those small decisions can be."
The students also learned about the ethical issues surrounding science as it relates to medicine and health care.
"There are a lot of different ethical discussions we have," said Masel. "We discuss the roles of the pharmaceutical industry and of money in general in the health-care system, and they wrote an essay this year on their ideas for reforming the health-care system."
The class was funded by a grant for Improving Undergraduate Education in the Biological Sciences from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
ECOL 379 will continue to be offered in the future, with the next section starting in the fall 2012 semester.