Phlebotomy, in a nutshell, is a procedure where a vein is surgically opened or punctured to extract blood, infuse a sterile fluid in the bloodstream, or in its most ancient form, as a procedure for letting blood. Either way, it involves removing blood from the body. The most common form of phlebotomy is known as venipuncture, or a procedure that involves using a sterile needle to puncture blood vessels and to collect the sample for analysis or treatment, as in the case of blood transfusions.
Historically, the early phlebotomists made use of leeches to remove blood from the body. It was believed that removing a certain amount of blood restores the humours, or other bodily fluids, into balance to restore health. It was done until the late 19th century. The ancient phlebotomists also believed that the procedure can remove toxins. However, the practice was discontinued because of the risk of haemorrhage and infections. Only a few rare conditions, such as hemochromatosis and polycythaemia, benefit from regular sessions of bloodletting. Modern phlebotomy only involves extraction of small amounts of blood, mainly for diagnostic means.
What is phlebotomy’s benefit?
Phlebotomy can benefit people who make too much iron in their blood or those who are producing too many blood cells in their body. Removing a certain amount of blood from the body can lower the levels of iron or red blood cells when done on a regular basis. Too much iron or red blood cells can damage the organs of the body, especially the liver.
More often than not, phlebotomy is also done to diagnose conditions that might not have manifested physically in the body. Many doctors rely on the ability of phlebotomists to secure the blood that they are extracting from the patients to get the most accurate diagnosis and to create a treatment plan that will benefit the patient. Some phlebotomists will even perform a variety of biochemical and microscopic tests on the patient’s blood to provide diagnosis.
What should patients undergoing phlebotomy expect?
Phlebotomy is usually done in a medical clinic. There are no special preparations required to undergo the procedure. However, the patient should inform the phlebotomist if they are taking blood thinners, such as warfarin or aspirin, or have blood disorders. Usually, the phlebotomist will have the patients sit or lie down and monitor blood pressure and pulse rate during the procedure. The needle will involve a pin prick sensation but the rest of the procedure should not cause any discomfort.
After phlebotomy, some patients might feel dizzy or even tired. The phlebotomy technician will suggest resting for 24 hours and drinking plenty of fluids to relieve the symptoms. A bruise or a small lump might appear on the puncture site but it will eventually resolve on its own.
What does a phlebotomist do during the procedure?
The phlebotomist is the healthcare professional responsible for performing the said procedure. However, nurses and other medical personnel who have had training in phlebotomy can perform the procedure. Aside from the usual protocols, the phlebotomist is also expected to reassure anxious patients who fear pain caused by needles and to master the art of extracting blood without causing discomfort or upset. They are also expected to be careful in handling blood and blood-contaminated products to keep themselves and other people safe.
It starts with the phlebotomist verifying the patient’s identity and organizing the equipment needed for the procedure. After washing his hands and putting on disposable gloves, the phlebotomy technician will put the patient’s arm on flat surface, making sure that limb is extended and supported. After selecting a terminal and available vein, he may also apply a tourniquet above the selected venepuncture site and request that the patient make a fist. The phlebotomist will clean the site with alcohol and after it dries, remove the cover from the needle. A sterile needle will be inserted in the vein, usually located in the arm, with the patient requested to unclench his hand after blood has begun flowing into the collection tube. A specific amount of blood will be extracted and the needle will be withdrawn from the veins. Gauze will be firmly placed over the puncture site. The extracted blood will be placed in a specially labelled vial and then transported by the phlebotomist to the diagnostic laboratory and the contaminated materials disposed properly. The whole procedure could take about an average of 30 minutes.
What does a phlebotomist do aside from the procedure?
Before actual blood collection, the phlebotomist must ensure that the equipment they use for every procedure are sterile and of first use. They are also responsible for the correct labelling of the container that has the drawn blood sample, ensuring they make the right paperwork that are traceable from collection to laboratory analysis and finally to proper disposal of fluids.
Other phlebotomists are also tasked to conduct home care visits. They are being responsible for transporting blood samples from the patient’s home to their laboratory. In other cases, phlebotomists also process blood samples for further analysis by other healthcare professionals. If they work in a specialised environment, phlebotomy technicians have to implement quality control and safety protocols to make sure that the blood samples are not tainted during analysis.
How does one become a phlebotomy technician?
Read also how to become a phlebotomist
In most regions, a phlebotomist learns the ropes while on the job, under the supervision of a clinical technician. A high school diploma and good grades are enough to get started in this career. They then under a week of training which will involve basic anatomy, patient ethics, techniques for blood collection as well as legal standards and technical safety protocols for blood extraction. Some states, such as California, prefer phlebotomists to be certified. That meant taking classes on phlebotomy for about three to six months and taking the examination to get your certificate. In the United States, there are four organisations that issue certificates to phlebotomy students, the National Phlebotomy Association and the American Association of Clinical Pathologists, included.