Part 2: Blood Collection Automation, Hold on to your Phlebotomists!

Earlier this week I discussed the topic of blood automation in the laboratory and how the Veebot Robotic Phlebotomist system works. In today’s continuation of this topic I’d like to address how the Veebot Robotic Phlebotomist falls short in the delivery as an automated alternative.

Despite ultimately being able to automate the process to an 83% success rate, the system still requires a healthcare professional to insert the tubes (or IV bag) after the stick plus someone to monitor the system. Currently a typical blood draw (cuff to Band-Aid) can take anywhere from under one minute with healthy, easy stick patients, to three minutes for more difficult and multiple stick patients, commonly encountered with the geriatric, pediatric, and oncology populations. This is compared to the Veebot time of one minute from cuff to stick. The Veebot excludes infants and small children where blood draws are not typically used and for whom sitting still in a chair is likely impossible. This population requires finger or heel sticks to collect the blood and are some of the most difficult, both physically and emotionally to draw.

As with blood draws, starting IV’s is a bit more complex and currently vein illuminator products such as those from AccuVein (AV400) and Christie (VeinViewer) offer a helpful tool to decrease the number of attempts required to initiate access. These products use a fiber optic or infrared light source, or ultrasound to gain peripheral  access. Another product, the Veinsite, from VueTek Scientific offers some promise for staff performing blood collection using a headset with near infrared technology. The Prevue from Bard Access is another option that uses a handheld ultrasound system. These systems are fairly inexpensive ranging from a $180.00 to $18,000.00 and are portable.

The Veebot Robotic Phlebotomist has more to overcome than human psychology to be truly competitive in the market today. There is the question of meeting accreditation requirements such as those from TJC (The Joint Commission) or CAP (College of American Pathologists) that have very specific guidelines for healthcare professionals who collect blood. What about FDA approvals that may be required? Will the reimbursement be the same or any at all? Currently there is no reimbursement for Vein Illuminator products and the current reimbursement for a venipuncture is $3.00. What level of training will be required to operate the system? Can we really replace the phlebotomists or medical assistants? The majority of personnel doing the blood draws are low wage earners, whom you would likely still need to employ to monitor the Veebot and complete the process. If not who’s going to monitor the patient?

If Veebot can automate the entire process from venipuncture, labeling and processing the collected samples while at the same time minimizing both the number of high wage and low wage staff currently in use, perhaps it may be a cost effective option. However, making a system that addresses the non-routine venipunctures, decreases the fail rate in the most difficult populations, is portable, has a small footprint, satisfies accreditation standards, and can do it at a lower cost than the current methods, then it’s likely to be acceptable and a much needed alternative. The Veebot Robotic Phlebotomist is still in development so it may very well address many of the questions raised as it moves toward increasing its success rate from 83% to 90%. Perhaps soon it will join in the game of acquisitions that will help launch it into a future full of success.

Maria Hernandez, MBA, BSMT (ASCP)
Maria Hernandez, MBA, BSMT (ASCP), Clinical Analyst — Ms. Hernandez is a laboratory professional whose background includes more than 18 years in the healthcare field. She has clinical experience in operations, physician office, hospital and ambulatory laboratory settings. She brings with her comprehensive knowledge of regulatory compliance, facility activation and relocation, LIS/EMR administration, medical coding and expertise in oncology and hematology. Ms. Hernandez is board certified by the American Society of Clinical Pathology as a Medical Technologist. Ms. Hernandez graduated from Texas State University with a Bachelor of Science in medical technology and earned a master’s degree in business administration from Amberton University.