CHICAGO — Intermountain Healthcare has learned how to reduce infections and hospital costs at the same time by monitoring blood transfusions and remembering that “blood is a drug,” according to one of the 22-hospital system’s chief medical directors, Mark J. Ott, M.D.

Ott, a general surgeon at the Salt Lake City-based health system, was the co-author of a two-year study in which Intermountain implemented an electronic blood ordering tracking system, along with hospital staff education in 2012. The study was presented Wednesday at the American College of Surgeon’s 2015 Clinical Congress.

Monitoring and changing the way physicians give blood to patients cut costs by $25 million and contributed to lower infection rates without harming patients, the study found.

“Everybody realizes blood does some wonderful things, but we don’t teach our students and residents in training how dangerous blood really is,” Ott said. Since transfused packed red blood cells act to suppress a patient’s immune system, their risk of infection goes up, he said.

In 2011, 6 percent of all patients at Intermountain facilities received blood; today, only 4 percent do so, Ott said. “So, a third of our patients didn’t get blood who used to. That’s a giant change,” he said. “That’s tens of thousands of units of blood a year that didn’t get used.”