Because blood loss attributable to laboratory testing is the primary cause of anemia among preterm infants during the first weeks of life, we quantified blood lost attributable to phlebotomy overdraw, ie, excess that might be avoided. We hypothesized that phlebotomy overdraw in excess of that requested by the hospital laboratory was a common occurrence, that clinical factors associated with excessive phlebotomy loss would be identified, and that some of these factors are potentially correctable.

Design, Outcome Measures, and Analysis.

Blood samples drawn for clinical purposes from neonates cared for in our 2 neonatal special care units were weighed, and selected clinical data were recorded. The latter included the test performed; the blood collection container used; the infant's location (ie, neonatal intensive care unit [NICU] and intermediate intensive care unit); the infant's weight at sampling; and the phlebotomist's level of experience, work shift, and clinical role. Data were analyzed by univariate and multivariate procedures. Phlebotomists included laboratory technicians stationed in the neonatal satellite laboratory, phlebotomists assigned to the hospital's central laboratory, and neonatal staff nurses. Phlebotomists were considered experienced if they had worked in the nursery setting for >1 year. Blood was sampled from a venous or arterial catheter or by capillary stick from a finger or heel. Blood collection containers were classified as tubes with marked fill-lines imprinted on the outside wall, tubes without fill-lines, and syringes. Infants were classified by weight into 3 groups: <1 kg, 1 to 2 kg, and >2 kg. The volume of blood removed was calculated by subtracting the weight of the empty collection container from that of the container filled with blood and dividing by the specific gravity of blood, ie, 1.050 g/mL. The volume of blood withdrawn for individual laboratory tests was expressed as a percentage of the volume requested by the hospital laboratory.


The mean (± standard error of the mean) volume of blood drawn for the 578 tests drawn exceeded that requested by the hospital laboratory by 19.0% ± 1.8% per test. The clinical factors identified as being significantly associated with greater phlebotomy overdraw in the multiple regression model included: 1) collection in blood containers without fill-lines; 2) lighter weight infants; and 3) critically ill infants being cared for in the NICU. Because the overall R2 of the multiple regression for these 3 clinical factors was only .24, the random factor of individual phlebotomist was added to the model. This model showed that there was a significant variation in blood overdraw among individual phlebotomists, and as a result, the overallR2 increased to .52. An additional subset analysis involving 2 of the 3 groups of blood drawers (ie, hospital and neonatal laboratory phlebotomists) examining the effect of work shift, demonstrated that there was significantly greater overdraw for blood samples obtained during the evening shift, compared with the day shift when drawn using unmarked tubes for the group of heavier infants cared for in the NICU.


Significant volumes of blood loss are attributable to overdraw for laboratory testing. This occurrence likely exacerbates the anemia of prematurity and may increase the need for transfusions in some infants. Attempts should be made to correct the factors involved. Common sense suggests that blood samples drawn in tubes with fill-lines marked on the outside would more closely approximate the volumes requested than those without. Conversely, the use of unmarked tubes could lead to phlebotomy overdraw because phlebotomists may overcompensate to avoid having to redraw the sample because of an insufficient volume for analysis. We were surprised to observe that the lightest and most critically ill infants experienced the greatest blood overdraw. Because the volume indicators on the outside of syringe barrels are seemingly analogous to the blood collection tubes with fill-lines, it was also unexpected to observe that blood overdraw was greater with syringes than with either marked or unmarked tubes. It is likely that this is attributable in part to the unavoidable presence of the air bubble inevitably originating in the syringe tip. Educating individual phlebotomists, nurses, and other members of the care team on reducing unnecessary blood loss, eg, ordering only essential blood tests, exercising the greatest care in the smallest infants, practice in drawing blood samples into syringes, etc, may also help. Other promising means for reducing laboratory blood loss include technologic improvements to further reduce laboratory sample volume required, more reproducible and better capillary blood sampling containers, and use of point-of-care laboratory testing in which little to no blood loss results.

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