Abbott unveils 'mixed reality' experience for blood donors as it looks to boost younger people's awareness

Abbott has partnered up with the Blood Centers of America to unveil a mixed-reality, VR-like experience for blood donation.

This unique endeavor aims to improve the blood donation process and attract younger people to the give blood globally, and shows how new tech can align with campaigning to help bring specific healthcare issues into the public imagination.

“One of the biggest challenges facing the sustainability of our nation’s blood supply over the last decade is the loss of a significant portion of donors under the age of 30 and we think this will appeal to that demographic as well as others looking for a unique experience while giving blood,” Patrick O’Connell, manager of public affairs at medtech giant Abbott, told Fierce Pharma Marketing in an interview.  

The technology is the one of the first-ever, consumer-focused applications controlled entirely through eye tracking.

Here is how it works: The donor puts on a lightweight mixed-reality headset and enters a digital world. They are, however, always fully aware of their real-life surroundings. At the same time, the healthcare professional drawing the blood can interact with the donor during every step of the process as the donor’s eyes are always visible for monitoring and evaluation.

Mixed reality is like virtual reality but allows users to see the real world around them while in the digital world. Abbott’s mixed reality program uses Microsoft HoloLens 2, a self-contained holographic computer that enables a hands-free interaction with 3D digital objects.

Before starting, blood donors are offered a quick tutorial on the headsets and the mixed reality world.

The experience was designed based on research that found using natural settings is most calming for people donating blood. For instance, participants can visit gardens full of trees and flowers while listening to soothing music during the experience.

Abbott is working with Blood Centers of America to roll out the new mixed reality experience in the coming months. People can learn more about the experience and when it will be available at a donation site near them by visiting The technology was officially launched at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and a one-day event at New York Blood Center in Brooklyn where about 20 donors were able to try the experience.

One of the motivators behind the innovation is the sustainability of the blood supply around the U.S., which has decreased significantly in the past 10 years. According to Abbott, about 3% of the U.S. population donates blood each year, and 15% of 18- to 34-year-olds donated blood in 2020.

“About a year ago, we leveraged our knowledge of transfusion medicine and technology to come up with the concept of using mixed reality during blood donation as a way to offer a new, innovative and immersive digital experience while giving blood,” said O’Connell. “It’s a high-tech and creative way to improve the donation experience and make it more appealing for people to participate.”

Among the donors who tried the experience so far, 90% said they had a positive experience with the mixed reality, according to O’Connell. In addition, 85% said the mixed reality was easy to use, and 94% said they were likely to donate again using mixed reality.

Participants reported that the experience made the donation process go by faster and provided a calming distraction.  

“This innovation is the most recent example of how Abbott is creating leading edge technology to address a key health care need in the world, in this case maintaining the blood supply,” O’Connell added.

“While we are starting to roll out the mixed reality for use during blood donation, we also see potential to take mixed reality beyond donors to the clinical experience, including phlebotomists’ training and helping pediatric patients.”