What is the Difference Between Phlebotomy and Venipuncture?

Wondering what is the difference between phlebotomy and venipuncture? You are not alone. While both are important in the medical field, medical assistants only need to focus on one.

Phlebotomy vs Venipuncture

While venipuncture and phlebotomy are similar, phlebotomy refers solely to drawing blood for testing. Venipuncture, on the other hand, involves the act of penetrating a vein with a needle, like with intravenous lines. Phlebotomy is taught during a Medical Assistant program and is a highly technical skill that requires clinical know-how, good judgment, and patient empathy.

How Does a Medical Assistant Perform Phlebotomy?

Phlebotomy steps may vary slightly whether in a hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office, but they typically include:

Step #1: Verify the Patient’s Identity

The medical assistant will check the patient’s name and date of birth against their medical records. Lack of identification can lead to serious medical errors. Proper verification ensures patients receive the appropriate tests and treatments.

Step #2: Requisition Review

Physicians use requisition forms to order tests like blood draws. They include instructions on which tests to perform. Reviewing the requisition guides your equipment selection and screening for billing inconsistencies in the request. The best time to ask requisition questions is before drawing blood.

Step #3: Supply Acquisition

Gathering personal protective equipment (PPE) and blood draw supplies, such as gloves, alcohol swabs, needles, and collection tubes, before drawing blood helps avoid medical errors. Preparation streamlines the blood draw, alleviates patient anxiety, and reduces the risk of infection.

Step #4: Patient Preparation

Before performing any procedure, medical assistants should explain the process to patients and verify their consent to proceed. Most patients sit for the procedures, but patients with a fear of needles or a history of fainting may need to lie down.

Step #5: Clean Hands

Handwashing is the most effective way to protect yourself and others from infection. You will scrub your hands with soap and warm water for 30 seconds before beginning.

Step #6: Apply the Tourniquet

Applying a tourniquet above the venipuncture site holds blood in the vein, making the vein more accessible to find and more resistant to collapsing. Although venous blood can be drawn from any vein, medical assistants use sites on the hand, wrist, or near the elbow.

Step #7: Keeping the Site Clean

Phlebotomy isn’t a sterile procedure, but cleaning the site with alcohol reduces the risk of infection. The proper technique protects patients from skin bacteria.

Step #8: Venipuncture

You will brace the vein with the thumb and index finger on your non-dominant hand. Use your dominant hand to puncture the vein at a 15–30-degree angle. Needles should be bevel-up and selected based on the patient’s size and physical condition.

Step #9: Blood Collection

You will push the collection tube into the tube holder and draw the blood. Remove and replace the tube to collect the required volume. Tubes are color-coded to reflect additives that are necessary for specific tests. You may need to collect multiple tubes depending on the types of tests ordered.

Step #10: Applying Pressure

Once the blood draw is complete, you will withdraw the needle and apply firm pressure to the site with a cotton ball to prevent bleeding and bruising. Applying a small adhesive bandage will protect the patient’s clothing.

Step #11: Cleaning Up

You will dispose of used supplies according to safety and infection control protocols. Needles are put in puncture-proof “sharps” containers. Gloves and gauze go in the regular trash bin or a biohazard bag.

Step #12: Patient Education

Part of a medical assistant’s role is to educate patients about self-care. You’ll help them clean the puncture area and apply ice to swollen or bruised areas. You will also provide them with contact information for follow-up.

Step #13: Labeling and Processing Samples

You will label the blood collection tubes with the patient’s information, the ordering doctor’s name, and the time and date of collection. Then, you will process the samples according to the laboratory’s guide. Some samples may need to be centrifuged to separate the liquid from the solids in the blood. At the same time, other samples may require refrigeration or flash freezing.

Medical assistants who work in a full-service laboratory may assist with blood testing. However, if you need to send them to an outside lab, the samples should be prepared for prompt shipment or courier transport.

Step #14: Procedure Documentation

You’ll note the procedure in the patient’s chart, including the date, time, venipuncture site, complications, and education provided.

Why Is Phlebotomy Important for Medical Assistants to Learn?

Phlebotomy helps doctors:

Helps Diagnose Disease

Blood tests can measure thousands of components in the bloodstream. Abnormal levels signal a range of medical conditions, such as:

  • Heart failure
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney and liver disorders
  • Cancer
  • Blood clotting abnormalities
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Infections

Helps Adjust Drug Dosages

Some drugs have a narrow therapeutic range. Therefore, low levels of the drug won’t help the patient, while high concentrations can be toxic. Many patients also have preexisting conditions, such as liver or kidney diseases, that affect how their bodies metabolize drugs. Blood tests help doctors adjust medication doses.

Health Risks Projection

Abnormally high or low levels of some components in the bloodstream can increase or decrease the risk of illness. High triglycerides, for example, are a risk factor for heart disease, while rising blood glucose could signal Type 2 diabetes. Identifying these risks early enables patients to stay healthier longer.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know the difference between phlebotomy and venipuncture, it is time to learn more about Gwinnett College. We will prepare you for a lifelong career as a medical assistant with the skills to support physicians and nurses. Take the first step toward a rewarding career, and Gwinnett College will be with you every step of the way.

Medical Assistant Program

Ready to start a new career as a medical assistant? Gwinnett Colleges & Institute offers medical assisting courses to gain essential skills and training at multiple campuses from Lilburn, Roswell/Sandy Springs, and Atlanta/Marietta to Orlando, FL and Raleigh, NC. The core curriculum at these campuses focuses on the medical assisting skills and training you will need to seek entry-level employment in physicians’ offices, clinics, hospitals, and other medical settings needing the services of associates trained in both front and back-office medical assisting skills. These medical assisting courses will be the first step in starting a rewarding career.

Contact Gwinnett Colleges & Institute today to learn more about becoming a medical assistant.