Blood. Everybody has it. Everybody needs it. Yet something about it puts some people completely on edge – even if they are walking into a safe, sanitary and controlled environment such as a lab or hospital. Clinical settings can be scary for patients who suffer from hemophobia (fear of blood) or belonephobia (fear of needles) – but they don’t have to be. Gloria Greene, a nationally certified phlebotomist at an Orlando medical facility, helps break down how patient comfort can contribute to creating a better overall experience, even for the most fearful patients.
Phlebotomists Are People Too
A common misconception is that phlebotomists are people who thrive on sticking people with needles. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“Patients shouldn't feel that we're out to hurt them,” Greene said. “We're there to perform a service and give them the results they need. So don't look at your phlebotomist so negatively.
People don't expect us to be friendly and passionate. We are people too, and we care. It's not about sticking and hurting people. We care and we're here to help them, not hurt them. People, if they don't know you, will say, ‘She can't wait to stick me. She can't wait to hurt me. She's a vampire.’ There is a negative bias from people who don't know you.”
A lot of patients do know and love Greene. And she loves them right back. “My patients have a big, bright smile on their faces when they come to see me. They will come to me, give me a hug and say, ‘I'm so happy I got to see you. I went on vacation and I brought something for you.’ I have regulars that won't let anyone else stick them at all. They will even leave [and reschedule their appointment] if I'm not there.”
Greene recommends that phlebotomists build rapport with their patients by making them feel comfortable. The process starts with showing confidence and a smile at all times. Some patients need the phlebotomist to do little things to help them stay calm, Greene said, such as letting them know before you stick them. She advises nervous patients to take a deep breath first, then tells them when it’s time for the needle. Counting to three also works for some patients.
“I let them know I've been doing this for over 20 years, so I will really take care of them,” Greene said. “I'm just really friendly; I keep eye contact and I tell them it's okay to be nervous. Just use compassion and a calm demeanor. Above all else, I treat the patient with courtesy, respect and professionalism.”
Read The Signs
Patients, especially those who express fear or displeasure, need to feel comfortable, and the phlebotomist has to read the signs and put the patient at ease. Phlebotomists also have to know when to take quick action.
If people look nervous, sick or dizzy, or start sweating and turning gray, Greene knows they’re on the verge of passing out and she has to remove the needle immediately.
Safety isn’t just for the patient – the phlebotomist and even the patient’s family members must be accounted for at all times, too.
“I have a routine patient who would always come in, but always alone,” Greene recalled. “One time she came in with her husband, who chose to just stand in the hallway as she was getting her blood drawn. The husband was a tall guy, you know, a big strapping guy. The patient and I were sitting there having a conversation while I was taking her blood and we heard a loud sound – he had hit the floor.
“I said to the patient, ‘I think your husband just fainted. Do you want me to take the needle out to check on him?’ She said, ‘Nooooo. Just leave it in. He'll be okay. He's on the floor already.’”
The man was a little embarrassed but otherwise fine. “Her husband said he loved her so much that he felt her pain,” Greene recalled. “It was too cute.”
Sit And Relax
An excellent way to help patients feel comfortable is to allow them to sit in a comfortable chair. When it comes to subduing fears, even the visual of the chair matters.
“I think the chair is a big part of what we do,” said Greene. “If the chair looks too restrictive or confined, it could impact how a patient feels. This is particularly the case when it comes to individuals who have small phobias.”
Blood draw chairs also should be adjustable. Being able to move the chair up and down makes a big difference for phlebotomists, who are on their feet all day. Having to bend over can lead to significant back pain – not a good situation for the patient or the person holding the needle and trying to find a good vein.
Remember The Basics
Patient comfort goes back to what phlebotomists learned in school. Keeping their area clean and organized to maintain a professional appearance at all times. Greeting the patient with a smile, being open and friendly, and letting the patient relax in a blood draw chair that is comfortable for both patient and technician. Simple steps can go a long way toward gaining a patient’s trust and creating a positive blood draw experience.
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