Nearly 14 million units of packed red blood cells are transfused in the United States each year. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 1999, 6% of hospitals reported a shortage of blood, resulting in the cancellation or postponement of surgical procedures. The many limitations and risks of transfusions of packed red blood cells in critically ill patients have facilitated interest in developing alternative agents for oxygen delivery. Over the past few decades, safe and effective substitutes have been in development. However, no currently approved agent provides both oxygen transport and volume in place of packed red blood cells. Oxygen therapeutic products have several advantages compared with packed red blood cells, including a prolonged shelf-life, lack of a cross-matching requirement, and minimal infectious risks or concerns about immunogenicity Hemoglobin-based oxygen carriers and perfluorocarbons are being developed. Two products are undergoing clinical trials. Polyheme is undergoing a phase III study in trauma patients, and Hemopure is being evaluated in a phase II study in patients undergoing cardiopulmonary bypass surgery. A third product (Hemolink) was being evaluated in a phase III study in patients undergoing coronary artery bypass grafting surgery; however, the trial was suspended. In addition, several other hemoglobin-based oxygen carriers are in the preclinical stages. Oxygen therapeutics have several potential clinical applications in the management of perioperative blood loss, trauma, acute normovolemic hemodilution, traumatic brain injury, and blood requirements in patients who refuse or have contraindications to transfusions of red blood cells.