Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The robot is here to draw your blood

A company has produced prototype robots that can draw blood from human arms. Here is a 48 second video showing one of them in action.

Using an infrared camera, the robot identifies a suitable vein and accesses the vein with ultrasound guidance.

A second video, not embedded in this post, explains that the robot is about 83% successful at drawing blood which compares favorably to the success rate of experienced human phlebotomists. The robot's inventor hopes to refine the procedure to get the success rate up to 90%.

It also says that there are 9 billion blood draws per year in the United States suggesting that a market is certainly there.

The second video also mentions the discomfort patients experience when a phlebotomist misses or damages the vein.

However, the robot needs quite a bit of help from a human phlebotomist both before and after the actual blood draw takes place.

The robot can't apply a tourniquet, can't wipe the skin with alcohol, can’t take the cover off the needle, once the vein is accessed can't actually remove the blood from the vein with a syringe, can't take off the tourniquet [the human assistant didn’t do it correctly either*], can’t apply pressure to the puncture site, can't put a Band-Aid on the skin, and can’t safely dispose of the needle.

It’s not clear what the robot would do if a patient flinches or withdraws his arm. Patients have been known to do those things.

For the foreseeable future, the robot would have to be accompanied by a human. So whatever the cost of the robot, personnel would not be eliminated.

It's a clever idea, but I don’t think a robot will be drawing your blood any time soon. ________________________________________________________
*One must undo the tourniquet before taking the needle out of the arm or the back-pressure will cause bleeding and/or a hematoma


Les said...

So the point is to replace med techs and phlebotomists with nurses aides who are paid less?

Anonymous said...

Do they really need more of this given the current issues with the DaVinci system? Humans are good for a few things one of them being to safely draw blood.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Les, I doubt that the concept has been thought through that thoroughly. However, I n my state, nursing assistants make $2/hour less than NAs. That's a $500 difference over one year.

Anon, I agree with you.

Oldfoolrn said...

What does the robot do when it encounters a rolling vein or a vein collapsed by the Vacutainer. Can it figure out how to regulate the aspiration pressure with a syringe so as to not collapse the vein. I think it would be easier and just as effective to develop a robot to punch the patient in the nose while a bowl is positioned under the nose. The robot could also serve double duty as a sparing partner

JEN said...

I worked as a phlebotomist to pay my way through college. What a job! I learned a lot.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Old, good points. Conditions would have to be perfect for it to work every time.

Jen, I agree. When I was an intern, we drew morning bloods on all our patients. It honed our skills and made us question whether bloodwork was really necessary on every patient.

Moose said...

I, for one, welcome our new Robot Blood Taking Overlords.

But, seriously, we're obviously a long way from robots doing this alone, anymore than we're anywhere near hip-replacement robots doing the whole surgery by themselves.

50 years ago to test how your blood sugar levels were doing you had to pee on a stick. Today you can wear something on your wrist that tells you what your bG reading is on demand and sound a warning when you go too high or too low. We're only a step away from an insulin pump that automagically changes dose and/or injects glucose when needed.

It took 50 years to get this far. No phlebotomists are going to be out of a job tomorrow from this robot.

Anonymous said...

Hey Skep,

I complained because my heme/onc said no donating blood. Between him, the bloodthirsty neuro and the GI, they took 17 vials of blood in 24 hours. I said ... did you think about this one? I could donate with the amount you guys pull out. He got a big grin on the face and said the volume is less than a bag.

I'd say they need to start teaching that to every generation. Maybe I wouldn't be anemic so much.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Several published papers have found that daily blood draws in hospitalized patients can cause anemia. Many patients have unnecessary blood tests because of defensive medicine, habit, need for reassurance etc.

Kevin Oliver said...

This is completely distasteful. The company is obviously trying to create a market for a product, likely because that is the best way to make a ton of money with no competition. I'm afraid to imagine how much this machine would cost, just look at the price of a glidescope($10-15k depending on the model), which is basically a $100 laryngoscope with a $200 fiber optic camera attached. If they really wanted to help people with this technology, they would try to adapt it to be able to get vascular access for ECMO for patients in the field. That would save lives. In the hospital the money would be better spent on more nursing staff.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

There was no mention of cost in the articles I read. I suspect that was on purpose. The prototypes are just that. If they were ever mass produced, I think they would be quite expensive.

William Reichert said...

This device might be adapted to place central lines .

Skeptical Scalpel said...

That's a good suggestion but there is still the issue of what if the patient moves or flinches? Also, central lines require local anesthesia in awake patients. The robot would have to be able to inject it. I think a person would still need to be present,

Also, US-guided internal jugular placement is pretty efficient now. I'm not sure the robot can do much better.

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