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Near-infrared device makes veins easier to find

A handheld near-infrared scanner can be used to locate veins in patients and blood donors by mapping them onto the skin.

Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET

It's not an uncommon occurrence when having blood taken or for hospital patients receiving medication intravenously: sometimes, that vein just does not want to be found, and the poor patient can be left feeling like a pin-cushion.

A new device being trialled by the Red Cross in Australia could see an end to hard-to-find veins. The portable, handheld vein visualisation scanners can find the veins under the patient's skin, and project a map onto the surface, allowing Red Cross's nurses to find veins quickly and easily.

The technology used is near-infrared, which reacts a specific way with the veins.

"Vein visualisation technology uses near-infrared technology to project an image of the vein onto the skin," explained Dr Dan Waller, senior researcher on the trial. "Veins have a lot of deoxygenated haemoglobin that absorbs near infrared light, and the device is able to use this information to project the image. The machines have settings to manage individual differences."

The device is to be tested on 900 blood donors at the Chatswood and Elizabeth Street Donor Centres in Sydney: 300 first-time donors and 600 returning donors. This will allow the Red Cross to determine the feasibility of a widespread rollout, examining such factors as safety, cost and impact on donor retention -- the team believes that the technology may improve the donation experience for young donors and see them returning.

"Donor Centre staff have found the technology particularly useful in cases where the vein is not visible to the naked eye," Dr Waller said. "We are keen to retain our young donors, and it is important to test if this technology may help us do that."

Check out the device in action in the video below.