Could Infrared Light Improve Blood Draws?

December 14, 2014

A simple device may make blood draws and IV placement easier for fearful patients, or for patients with difficult-to-feel veins.

Many patients find blood draws and IV placement difficult and uncomfortable at best, and painful and anxiety-inducing at worst. For a minority, it's even traumatic, and a poor past experience can leave some patients being so fearful that they will avoid seeking any treatment that involves needles. Drawing blood is commonly done in pregnant women for a variety of reasons, and IV placement is standard practice in many hospital labor and delivery departments. Donated blood is extremely important in saving lives, but the Red Cross states that the "fear of needles" is one of the most common reasons for not becoming a donor. Some of the potential complications from blood draws, including pain and bruising from multiple needle sticks, might be avoidable, however, with a simple piece of technology.

Despite the widespread difficulties in cannulation, there is very little information on how to identify patients who might have difficult-to-access veins, or how to best locate veins in a patient's arm. A variety of infrared vein finders are being used to better visualize a patient's veins and aid in procedures such as IV placement, blood draws, or blood donation.

One type of the deceptively simple devices are battery-powered and emit an infrared light. Infrared light can't be seen by the human eye, so the vein finders focus and reflect that light into a wavelength that appears red, green, or yellow. As the light is passed over the patient's arm, veins appear darker because they contain deoxygenated hemoglobin that absorbs the light, while skin partially reflects the light. The handheld units are small - they can be carried in a pocket or attached to a chair for hands-free use. A device might not need to be sterilized between patients if the unit never actually touches the skin (it would simply be held over the arm).

Studies cited on the websites of vein finders currently on the market state that the devices can reduce escalation calls by 45%. Interviews with patients showed that many would be more satisfied with their treatment if an infrared device were used and indeed were willing to drive further to access a medical facility that used the technology. Some devices can be connected to a monitor, can store images, and can be adjusted to use different colors of visible light based on the patient's skin color.

Another type of infrared viewer is worn on the medical practitioner's head, over the eyes like goggles. This unit uses near infrared light and instead of projecting onto the skin, the user sees the veins through the viewfinder. Studies cited on manufacturer's web site indicate that this technology may be more useful in patients for which the handheld units are not as effective, such as those who are obese or who have darker skin.

Some hospitals and training centers are already using infrared devices, and the Australian Red Cross is currently studying them for routine use in blood donation.


AccuVein. Vein Visualization Displays Veins Beneath the Surface. Available at:

American Red Cross. Blood Facts and Statistics. 2014. Available at:

Christie Medical Holdings, Inc. ASSESS Plus Imaging Suite. 2014. Available at:

VueTek Scientific, LLC. Clinical Evidence. 2014. Available at: