Veebot’s Needle Wielding Robot to Automate Blood Draws

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Taking blood is a fine art. Even the most experienced practioner may require more than one stab to find a vein—seems only natural to wonder, might a robot do the job better? Mountain View’s Veebot thinks so. Veebot wants to take the art out of needlework with their robotic venipuncture machine.

In the litigious healthcare industry, if they get it right, one imagines there will be a market—maybe a big one. According to Veebot, there are two million reported needlestick injuries a year. 20% to 25% of all venipunctures miss the mark on their first attempt. The danger may seem minor—two tiny pinpricks instead of one.

But there’s more to it than just that.

The problem is failed “sticks” don’t only result in a little discomfort and a second attempt. Sometimes practitioners miss the vein and hit a nerve instead causing temporary to permanent damage depending on the depth of the miss.

Worse, needle-related injuries aren’t limited to patients. Fact is, most injuries occur on the other side of the operating table. Healthcare practitioners are exposed to needles from start to finish, resulting in unintentional “needle stick” injuries and exposure to blood-borne disease.

Beyond injuries, human error results in potentially disasterous mislabeling of patient samples. Mislabeling is responsible for 170,000 “adverse events” and $200 to $400 million in costs a year, according to Veebot.

Veebot’s system will secure the patient’s arm in place underneath imaging equipment and robot needle. The healthcare provider views images of the patient’s arm—infrared for general vein location, ultrasound to zero in on the vein of interest—and hits go. The machine takes it from there, drawing blood, capping and labeling vials, inserting IVs, administering medicine, and making the needle safe for disposal.

Veebot uses infrared to locate veins and ultrasound to hone in on the right one.

There are competitors—though none seems to offer the total package. PocketSonics makes handheld ultrasound imaging devices and IRIS uses infrared imaging. Veebot includes ultrasound, infrared, and automation. As yet the machine’s costs are unknown. But compared to potential legal costs of needlestick accidents, one imagines the price tag would have to be truly unreasonable to miss the market.

What are the odds every hospital will one day use robots to draw blood? The technology seems more than feasible. Human eyes can’t see under the skin. Human hands can’t repeatedly find their mark with precision. The human brain can easily confuse patient samples. It’s a simple, repeating process well suited to robots and demonstrably prone to human error.

Image Credit:  Otis Historical Archives National Museum of Health and Medicine, Flickr, Veebot

Discussion — 9 Responses

  • Improbus Liber February 18, 2013 on 10:16 am

    I, for one, welcome our skin puncturing overlords. Seriously, if any of you have your blood drawn often this will be a god send. It is a real pleasure to get stuck by someone that knows what they are doing. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen very often in real life.

  • Bruce Fowler February 18, 2013 on 1:11 pm

    Two million out of how many? Can’t compute probability without. Poorjournalism or self-serving?

  • rtryon February 18, 2013 on 5:44 pm

    I just had six vials drawn here in P.R. The young woman doing the task was told by me that I have had this done maybe 30-50 times and all found it hard to get blood. At least two gave up!

    The task a few days ago started out with the woman probing my left arm in the standard elbow location. After a minute she shifted to the right arm and in ten seconds found her target. I could not see it!

    She got out her alcohol swab, needle and six vials lined up like the President lines up pens. She picked her site and slid the needle in so deftly that I did not even feel a pin prick! In another minute she had all six vials loaded and labeled with printed labels for each test to be done by the computer that took the doctor’s Rx and set it all up. When that input was verified by me, the rest was hard to screw up.

    Not sure I want to trust that the machine will be as competent, as painless or as pleasant! No doubt Obamacare will only want to discover that since I will be 81 in just 91 days, I am too close to the point of not being allowed as a test subject to help insure that my cardiac condition is worth treating since my chance of bringing forth my invention to feed millions is worth being considered as anything of national import sufficient to warrant spending taxpayer money from me on me!

  • rtryon February 18, 2013 on 5:49 pm

    I just had six vials drawn here in P.R. The young woman doing the task was told by me that I have had this done maybe 30-50 times and all found it hard to get blood. At least two gave up!

    The task a few days ago started out with the woman probing my left arm in the standard elbow location. After a minute she shifted to the right arm and in ten seconds found her target. I could not see it!

    She got out her alcohol swab, needle and six vials lined up like the President lines up pens. She picked her site and slid the needle in so deftly that I did not even feel a pin prick! In another minute she had all six vials loaded and labeled with printed labels for each test to be done by the computer that took the doctor’s Rx and set it all up. When that input was verified by me, the rest was hard to screw up.

    Not sure I want to trust that the machine will be as competent, as painless or as pleasant! No doubt Obamacare will only want to discover that since I will be 81 in just 91 days, I am too close to the point of not being allowed as a test subject to help insure that my cardiac condition is worth treating since my chance of bringing forth my invention to feed millions is worth being considered as anything of national import sufficient to warrant spending taxpayer money from me on me!

  • Bill February 19, 2013 on 8:12 am

    This looks cool, but the device is bulky and I see a healthy grown man sitting in a chair. What about patients on hospital beds, or in the back of an ambulance, or on an operating table? What about babies? This has a lot of application potential, but it needs to be shrunk and adapted to more real world scenarios. Calm, easy situations like the one portrayed above are the ones least needful of something as accurate as this. But hopefully adaptation and improvements can be made and a lot of phlebotomists will be out of a job. If they can make catheter inserters and a few other devices LVN jobs could be wiped out as well in years to come.

  • Ivan Malagurski February 19, 2013 on 10:15 pm

    I, as well, welcome our skin puncturing overlords :)