Matching Algorithms for Blood Donation

ACM Conference on Economics and Computation (EC)


Managing perishable inventory, such as blood stock awaiting use by patients in need, has been a topic of research for decades. This has been investigated across several disciplines: medical and social scientists have investigated who donates blood, how frequently, and why; management science researchers have long studied the blood supply chain from a logistical perspective. Yet global demand for blood still far exceeds supply, and unmet need is greatest in low- and middle-income countries. Both academics and policy experts suggest that large-scale coordination is necessary to alleviate demand for donor blood. Using the recently deployed Facebook Blood Donation tool, we conduct the first large-scale algorithmic matching of blood donors with donation opportunities. In both simulations and real experiments we match potential donors with opportunities, guided by a machine learning model trained on prior observations of donor behavior. While measuring actual donation rates remains a challenge, we measure donor action (i.e., calling a blood bank or making an appointment) as a proxy for actual donation. Simulations suggest that even a simple matching strategy can increase donor action rate by 10-15%; a pilot experiment with real donors finds a slightly smaller increase of roughly 5%. While overall action rates remain low, even this modest increase among donors in a global network corresponds to many thousands of more potential donors taking action toward donation. Further, observing donor action on a social network can shed light onto donor behavior and response to incentives. Our initial findings align with several observations made in the medical and social science literature regarding donor behavior.

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