When becoming a phlebotomist, one must learn about each needle type, its purposes, and whom it serves a purpose. For most phlebotomy patients, a standard needle is inserted for a safe blood draw. For people with superficial veins, such as kids and geriatric patients, they require a much thinner needle. Butterfly needles are a perfect substitute for the traditional needle set.
A butterfly needle is a shorter needle with a thinner gauge, ranging from sizes 18 to 27. When measuring gauges, the higher the number, the thinner the diameter, making butterfly needles one of the thinnest needles for phlebotomists to use. Typically, 21 or 23 gauge are used for blood draws.
Butterfly needles are also known as a winged transfusion set or a scalp vein for its ‘two wings’. Butterflies are not the standard needle for blood sample collection, but they are often utilized for patients with shallow or thin veins.
The tubes of a butterfly needle vary from 8 to 15 inches. For most needle sets, shorter tubes are used for blood draws, whereas longer tubes are used for intravenous (IV) therapy.
There are two main types of butterfly needles: standard safety devices and push button safety devices.
Standard safety devices are equipped with 21 gauge or 23 needles and a tube. Once the blood draw is complete, the phlebotomist retracts the needle by hand before disposing of it.
For push button safety devices, however, the gauge size varies. In addition to the tube, push button safety devices have a Luer lock, which secures the needle in place. Depending on the manufacturer, some standard safety devices will have the Luer lock, but not all. Once the button is enacted for this device, the needle will retract and is secure for disposal.
Butterfly needles are not intended for everyone. The higher gauge and thinner diameter is meant to help patients whose veins are most susceptible to damage. The most common patients that utilize butterfly needles are infants, children, and the elderly. Other patients who require a butterfly needle are people with difficult draws, thin veins, or veins that are difficult to find.
The butterfly needle has several benefits, with the most prominent being its ability to help populations with superficial, sensitive, or smaller veins. With its thinner needle, patients often experience less pain from a butterfly needle than a standard needle. Its size decreases the risk of nerve damage and allows for a more stable infusion method when properly secured. Its stability and accuracy derive from its shorter length, in which phlebotomists can hold it closer to the stem and have more control.
While the butterfly needle serves many purposes, it also has its downsides. For example, with such a small needle, it takes a much longer time to gather blood. In addition, phlebotomists often cannot obtain a large quantity of blood. There is also an increased chance of hemolysis – the rupturing of red blood cells – because of the needle’s smaller size.
Aside from the medical consequences of butterfly needles, we must also acknowledge its economic cost. Butterflies are more expensive than standard needle sets and should only be used for individuals who need it.
When using a butterfly needle, it is critical to follow the proper steps to avoid hemolysis, nerve damage, or patient discomfort. Follow the steps below for a safe procedure:
- Wash your hands and then put on a sterile pair of gloves.
- Attach the connector to a vacuum tube or a collection bag.
- Tie a tourniquet around the patient’s arm and look for a vein.
- When you have found a vein, disinfect the needle site and wait for it to dry before inserting the needle.
- Insert the butterfly needle into the vein at a 30-degree angle. If you see blood through the tube, the needle is inserted correctly. If not, the vein collapsed, and you must look for another vein.
- Once the vacuum tube is full of blood, remove the tourniquet.
- Remove the needle and bandage the draw site.
- Dispose of the needle properly and label the blood sample.
At PhlebotomyU, we are committed to providing our phlebotomy students a hands-on, engaging education. Our nationally accredited Certified Phlebotomy Technician (CPT-1) course gives students over 200 hours of training and experience with all needle types, including butterfly needles.
To learn more about our CPT-1 course, contact us today.