The Difference Between Straight Needles & Butterfly Needles
Selecting the right needle for blood collection is critical to achieving the best outcome. Errors that occur during the process of drawing and collecting blood can impact the result. There are various types of needles that can be used by phlebotomists to obtain a blood sample. One of the most important decisions phlebotomists make is whether to use a straight needle or a butterfly needle.
Straight needles are used most commonly to collect blood and they are the first choice in most scenarios. A straight needle is attached to a syringe or tube holder in advance. When the needle is drawn, the blood streams into the container. Straight needles are available in different gauges to cater to different patients and scenarios. The World Health Organization recommends the use of straight needles in the majority of blood collection procedures, with the exception of more complex cases, for example, taking blood from children and elderly patients.
Straight needles offer the following benefits:
- Suitable for taking multiple samples in one procedure
- High-quality venous samples
- Lower risk of needlestick incidents
- Lower costs
- Faster blood collection
- Lower risk of clotting
Butterfly needles, also known as winged-infusion blood collection systems, offer an alternative to straight needles for phlebotomists. Butterfly needles are so-called because they have a set of plastic wings, which the phlebotomist can grip while the needle is inserted into the vein. Butterfly needles are shorter than straight needles and they are attached to a tube, which joins a connector and a syringe or a tube collector. There is a range of gauge sizes available, including options for pediatric patients.
The short length of the butterfly needle enables the phlebotomist to enter the vein at a shallower angle than a straight needle, which makes the process easier in more complex and challenging cases, for example, accessing small and fragile veins.
Butterfly needles offer the following advantages:
- Offers easier access to small, fragile and superficial veins
- Less menacing for people who have a fear of needles
- Suitable for use with babies, young children and elderly patients
- Lower risk of excessive bleeding, vein collapse and nerve injuries
- Easier access to veins that can be hard to reach with a straight needle, for example, veins in the wrist, scalp and hands
- Lower risk of discomfort for patients
When to use straight and butterfly needles
There are advantages and disadvantages of both straight and butterfly needles, and phlebotomists learn when to use which type of needle as part of their training and ongoing clinical development. In the vast majority of cases, straight needles provide an effective solution for efficient blood sample collection, but there are scenarios when a butterfly needle may offer benefits for the patient and the phlebotomist. Examples of situations that may require a butterfly needle include taking blood from fragile, narrow, small veins and collecting samples from children, infants and the elderly. The shorter length of the butterfly needle and the angled entry allow for easier access to narrow and delicate veins and veins located in parts that are difficult to reach with a straight needle.
Selecting the right needle is a significant driving factor in successful, effective, precise, safe blood collection. Using a suitable needle will not only reduce the risk of discomfort and help patients to feel relaxed and at ease, but it will also help to ensure that the sample is viable.
Before choosing a straight or butterfly needle, experienced, trained phlebotomists will assess the situation and consider factors, such as the age of the patient and the location of the vein. Most phlebotomists will work with straight needles much more commonly than butterfly needles, but those who work in elderly care facilities, pediatric wards and hospitals and care homes may be more familiar with butterfly needles.
The importance of using the right needle
The process of collecting blood samples impacts every step that follows. If the sample is collected properly in line with best practice guidelines, the risks of inaccurate diagnostics fall dramatically. Phlebotomists have skills and training that enable them to complete procedures safely, efficiently and accurately. Before collecting blood from a patient, a phlebotomist will assess the scenario carefully to select the right needle. Using the right needle makes accessing the vein easier, enhances safety and makes the procedure more tolerable and less daunting for patients and clients. In most cases, straight needles are the best option, but there are circumstances when butterfly needles offer advantages for phlebotomists and their patients.
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