In the most basic terms, phlebotomy is the process of collecting blood samples using a needle to access an individual’s veins. This procedure is also commonly referred to as venipuncture and is performed by a medical specialist called a phlebotomist. Those who work in this profession are valuable members of the medical team because they help nurses, physicians, and other providers evaluate, monitor, and treat a variety of medical conditions. Individuals who have been exploring the possibility of a career in an allied health profession are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the field so that they can make an informed decision about the professional career path that is most appropriate for them.
What is Phlebotomy
The collection of blood specimens through venipuncture is one of the most common invasive medical procedures that is performed in a healthcare setting. Although there are several types of medical providers qualified to collect samples from patients, the phlebotomist is the only person who specializes in the procedure. In most cases, the phlebotomy technician will gather samples after a physician or nurse has submitted an order using either verbal or nonverbal communication. The blood that is collected is used for several purposes including diagnosis, monitoring, treatment, tranfusions, and analysis. As you can see, the basic answer to the question what is phlebotomy is fairly straightforward, but the rationale for performing the procedure can be complex.
How are Blood Samples Collected
Blood is most commonly removed from the patient’s body using a needle to access the median cubital vein located just under the skin in the forearm area nearest the elbow. People who have donated blood are familiar with this area because it is where the technicians insert the needle. In cases where small amounts of blood are needed, the phlebotomist may elect to use a finger stick or heel stick technique. Most technicians are willing to provide specific details to answer the question what is phlebotomy in the event that the patient is curious about how blood will be collected. The equipment used to draw blood varies depending on the access point and the size of the specimen that is required.
The most common tool used to collect blood products for standard analysis is referred to as an evacuated tube. This system is constructed using a hypodermic needle, plastic hub, and vacuum tube. The first step in the procedure is to carefully insert the needle into the vein. A special type of sleeve and cannula prevents blood from exiting the vein before the negative pressure tube is connected. After the tube is connected, it draws blood from the vein. Technicians will remove the tube once it has filled to a certain point. In most cases, several tubes of blood will be collected so that a series of tests can be run. In addition to using tubes with different mediums, a phlebotomist may choose from many different sizes of needles. While smaller needles are generally less painful, they may not always be practical if large amounts of blood are being collected.
Phlebotomy as a Treatment Modality
Some medical conditions are best treated through the repeated removal of blood from the body. In these cases, the answer to the question what is phlebotomy is therapeutic rather than diagnostic. A disease that is often treated using phlebotomy is known as hemochromatosis. This condition is characterized by an accumulation of iron in the patient’s body resulting from genetics, transfusions, excessive supplementation and dietary consumption, or secondary to other diseases. Hemochromatosis is harmful to the body because it damages the liver, heart, and endocrine glands. Some conditions that can result from the disease include cirrhosis, arthritis, diabetes, bronzing of the skin, and cardiomyopathy. Patients who suffer from this disease benefit from repeated phlebotomy because it serves to remove iron rich blood from the body.
Side Effects and Discomfort
Many people are apprehensive about having blood removed from their body through the process of phlebotomy. While it is natural for humans to become anxious during the procedure, encounters typically occur without incident and result in minimal amounts of discomfort. In situations where individuals are disturbed by the process or in cases where large quantities of blood are being removed, patients may become dizzy or lightheaded. Lying flat and consuming small amounts of food and water may help alleviate the discomfort. Other potential side effects include bruising of the puncture site and infection. In either case, the condition will either subside on its own without treatment or can be treated with warm compresses applied to the area many times each day.
Phlebotomist Career Path
A career as a phlebotomist is personally and professionally rewarding for those who want to have a positive impact on the lives of others without completing several years of college and specialty training. While it can be challenging to help patients through the procedure, the ability to adequately answer the question what is phlebotomy can go a long way in making individuals less apprehensive. Those who choose to pursue this industry can expect to become valued members of the medical team and benefit from strong job growth for the foreseeable future.