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Robot-assisted phlebotomy to assist and protect healthcare workers and researchers

Robot-assisted phlebotomy (making an incision in a vein with a needle) has the potential to improve the process of administering IVs and drawing blood while protecting healthcare workers from accidental needle pricks that could endanger their health. Administering IVs and drawing blood is a routine and potentially dangerous task that is performed daily on Ebola infected patients. Since healthcare workers wear protective suits, they cannot palpate and feel the vein, making it a difficult process. Moreover, injecting lab animals such as mice is a critical part of testing experimental vaccines and treatments but poses dangers for researchers. We propose to use robot-assisted technologies to make the process easier and safer.

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Statistics have shown that 28% of insertions during phlebotomy (making an incision in a vein with a needle) fail on the first attempt in normal adults. The failure rate for children is as high as 54% and at least 27% of patients require 3 attempts or more to obtain a successful insertion. The process also poses dangers to healthcare workers because of the possibility of accidental needle pricks. In addition, injecting lab animals such as mice is routinely carried out to test experimental vaccines and treatments but handling mice infected with the virus and drawing blood is a dangerous task for researchers.

There have been prior efforts to automate the process of vein finding to assist doctors in the field. However, several factors such as darker skin tones and obesity pose significant challenges. 

In addition, prior efforts such as Vasculogic's VenousPro, Veebot, and HaemoBot have proposed the use of robotic technologies to automate the injection process and perform it with precision. However, sterilization remains a major challenge, especially in the context of infectious diseases such as Ebola.

We are researchers at UC Berkeley and have considerable expertise in the domain of medical robotics, including exploring autonomous execution of surgical subtasks such as suturing, cutting, and debridement, handling and manipulating deformable tissue-like material, and autonomous needle insertion for radiation oncology. We plan to investigate the automation of phlebotomy and address some of the challenges outlined above.

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