People squeamish about donating blood may one day find the process easier with a little help from a virtual vein finder.
The Australian Red Cross is testing a device that allows technicians to see an image of the donor’s veins projected onto their skin, thereby allowing the needle to be placed in the perfect spot every time. That’s especially crucial for people with hard-to-find veins.
“We are keen to retain our young donors, and it is important to test if this technology may help us do that,” said Dr. Dan Waller, a senior researcher at Australian Red Cross Blood Service, in a statement.
“We are interested to see if this technology improves the donation experience in young people and whether that increases their likelihood to return to make repeat donations.”
The American Red Cross did not have a comment about the test.
Vein visualization devices are already in place at many hospitals, with New York-based AccuVein noting its products are in use at more than 3,000 facilities.
The gadgets use infra-red technology to painlessly and non-invasively show what’s under the patient’s skin. Veins contain deoxygenated hemoglobin —a protein in blood — which absorbs nearby infrared light and allows the devices to create a map, Waller said. That could make it easier for people who want to give blood but have had bad experiences with health care workers trying to find their veins.
"Patients are very relieved. It decreases anxiety, they feel much more comfortable. They think it’s really interesting and cool," said Dr. Garry Choy, an attending physician at the department of radiology at Massachusetts General. The hospital bought a similar device a month ago to improve patient experience, he noted.
The technology is widely known, but it has been very expensive to get until recently when it became available as a portable device, Choy said. It's accurate and especially helpful for people with hard-to-find veins, like children and older patients.
"We can make a big difference to improve the way people get their blood drawn or get IVs," he added.
So in “a world-first,” the Australian Red Cross is trying out the technology in a blood donation setting to see if it would be a good fit. Three hundred first-time and 600 returning donors will test the devices at two locations in Sydney.
The goal is to see whether the devices reduce anxiety, improve “donation comfort” and make donors more likely to donate again, the organization said.