For people with hard-to-find veins, giving a simple blood sample can mean getting stuck like a pin cushion as the nurse or doctor roots around for the target. The Australian Red Cross Blood Service, which collects somewhere around 1.3 million blood donations a year, has a vested interest in making the process of giving blood as painless as possible. The organisation estimates that Australia needs 27,000 blood donations a week, and they’re always looking for volunteers to donate. But who wants to spend their free time getting stabbed repeatedly in the arm?
Looking like a giant VHS tape with a handle, a new handheld device being tested by the Australian Red Cross makes finding even the most elusive veins easy.
Hemoglobin within the blood absorbs near infrared light projected by the device, which helps to locate the veins. That information is instantly translated into a vein map of sorts, and projected back onto to the corresponding part of the arm. In the image, bright green veins light up like stains under a backlight, allowing Red Cross workers to easy figure out where to stick their needle.
This visualisation technology wasn’t pioneered by the Australian Red Cross—the organisation is testing out two devices on the market from two different Australian companies, according to a press release. Near infrared technology is used in hospitals and clinical research studies to monitor things like oxygen levels in the brain, so it’s not like Red Cross blood donors are becoming guinea pigs for some untested technology. However, vein visualisation has never been studied as a psychological tool, as something that might put people at ease or make their blood-drawing process more pleasant.
The Australian Red Cross is in the midst of a trial with the device in two of its donation locations in Sydney to determine whether it reduces donors’ anxiety and makes them more comfortable during blood donation. Because retaining blood donors is vital to the Blood Service’s mission, the main goal is to figure out whether using this kind of technology makes people more likely to return to donate again. I’d be tempted to donate blood just for the fun of seeing my own veins.