A viewfinder for veins

It’s an unavoidable part of almost any hospital stay — having blood drawn or an IV line inserted. The process becomes a little more complicated when the nurse has trouble locating a vein.

But a handheld device is making that search a little easier, allowing nurses and phlebotomists to view the blood vessels deep beneath the patient’s skin.

The AccuVein device shines a small, square patch of crimson light on the skin. The technology takes advantage of the fact that the hemoglobin in the blood absorbs infrared light.

Within the red square, a highway map of veins appears almost black and easy to see. The device can detect veins up to 0.4 inch below the skin’s surface. It also helps to better see the knotty valves and connections between veins to avoid.

The result? Fewer needle sticks in patients with hard-to-see veins.

“It allows you to see veins that you can’t see with your eyes,” said Bart Reger, a registered nurse at University Hospital who has been using it a few weeks in the Surgical Trauma Intensive Care Unit. “It’s kind of like night vision.”

University Hospital recently acquired 13 of the devices for use on units throughout the hospital.

Veins can be hard to see for a number of reasons, from dehydration and low blood pressure, to overweight, to medications and fluids that can cause swelling.

An adjustable floor stand can be used with the device, so that after finding a vein the nurse can have both hands free when actually doing the procedure.

And while the device can make it easier to find the vein, inserting the needle into it still requires some skill, Regar said. “It doesn’t make you better at starting an IV. Your technique is the same. It just shows you the veins you can’t see.”