Making Veins Visible

Laser lights up blood vessels, making IVs easier to insert

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

Article Last Updated: Monday, August 16, 2010 10:05am

Photo by Jerry McBride, Herald Photographer

Photo by Jerry McBride, Herald Photographer

Anyone who has endured multiple needle sticks when a clinician probes for a vein to draw blood, administer medicine or insert an IV catheter is bound to like this invention.JERRY McBRIDE/Herald photos

The AccuVein infared laser shows blood running through veins during a demonstration of the device at Mercy Regional Medical Center. The device allows nurses and doctors to identify hard-to-find veins and improve the chances of successfully inserting an IV on first attempt.

It’s the AccuVein AV300, a hand-held gadget the size of a TV remote that uses an infrared laser to make veins as visible as interstate highways on a map.Linda Young, director of critical-care services at Mercy Regional Medical Center, demonstrates the AccuVein Finder on Lori Ebberts, critical-care team leader, Tuesday at the hospital.

“We use it any time we don’t readily see a vein,” Linda Young, director of critical-care services at Mercy Regional Medical Center, said last week while demonstrating how the vein finder works. “Multiple sticks are traumatic for anyone.”

The difference in light absorption is what makes the vein finder work.

Hemoglobin, an iron-rich protein in the red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, absorbs infrared light differently than flesh.

Young demonstrated the vein finder on Lori Ebberts, a critical-care team leader, who has hard-to-find veins.

The veins in Ebberts’ arm were not visible to the naked eye. But when Young bathed her forearm in laser light, Ebberts’ tissue appeared red and the veins purple or black – and very prominent.

The vein finder isn’t as effective in highlighting veins in babies or people with dark skin, Young said.

Mercy has nine AV300s throughout the hospital. They were donated by the Mercy Health Foundation and have been used for about two months.

A clinician needs about a 1-inch section of vein to insert a catheter, Young said. The vein finder shows the position of veins and their valves, which facilitates easier access. 

Patient comfort is important, she said. The vein finder may not eliminate the need for a stick, but it can ease anxiety by reducing the number of sticks.

Venipuncture is the most commonly performed invasive medical procedure, Heidi Siegel, director of marketing communications for AccuVein, said by telephone.

She cited the website of the American Society for Clinical Pathology: A citation said 1.4 billion “vascular accesses” are made in the U.S. annually. An article said: 1 in 3 first attempts to insert an IV into an adult fails; 1 in 2 first attempts to insert an IV into a child fails; 1 in 3 pediatric insertions of an IV requires three or more tries; and 1 in 8 attempts to insert an IV in cancer patients fails outright.

The AV300 has been on the market just more than a year, Siegel said. It is used in 280 hospitals in the United States and in 45 countries.

“Everyone seems to have a story about getting stuck or about hard-to-find veins,” Siegel said. “We hear a ‘Wow!’ when people see how the AV300 works,” she said.