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Shop Talk: Jesse Harris

Bedside manner is just as important as good technique

by Jesse Harris • April 02, 2019


My subscribers have a collective expertise in phlebotomy that exists nowhere else on the planet. This column is your opportunity to share what you know and how you feel about your skill, the profession, or whatever you want to share about the nature of your work. Tips, rants, joyful experiences are all welcome. If you want to submit an article for consideration, send your 400-700-word article to us at [email protected]. We reserve the right to edit the document for grammar, punctuation, and clarity, but those that don't require much "fixing" will be given top consideration. Go for it!

Jesse Harris
Jesse Harris MA(NCCT), CPT(NHA)

Phlebotomy was not my original plan for a career, but it has become one of the many hats I’ve worn since 1978, when I began my career in the medical field as part of an ambulance crew in the wilds of Alaska. I learned to place IV’s and perform CPR while we navigated rough, snow covered logging roads or… moose trails. My phlebotomy career began in 2003 right after M.A. school. My instructor told me I had a natural talent. I went with that and haven’t regretted it.

There have been so many changes in procedures since then. When I began, we had to write (a lost art) on requisitions and tubes. Now, everything is computerized, from EMRs to those nifty labels that magically appear from a printer, with all the patient information embedded - some even have the required tube for the test(s) listed right on them. The names of a variety of tests have changed. Collection and processing requirements have changed immensely. The standards and protocol regarding phlebotomy change regularly to reflect more modern thinking. But, the one thing that has not changed anywhere in the medical field, especially phlebotomy, is the importance of bedside manner.

Good bedside manner requires us to realize every patient is different, and that each day is different for every one of them. .It’s a critical skill that an excellent phlebotomist uses every day with every patient. Phlebotomy is a direct, and personal interaction with a patient and one of their biggest fears---the needle. There are so many things to remember during the performance of a venipuncture, never mind through the course of our day at work. Bedside manner should always be at the top of that list.

Bedside manner can improve a patient’s attitude toward a blood draw. It can also be a great thing to utilize when we are new to the field and haven’t yet honed our technical skills. Most patients appreciate concern and regard for their well-being, even if the draw isn’t our best one that day. Genuine apologies for a venipuncture that didn’t turn out so well are received much better if we can somehow correct the situation. Bedside manner can help smooth things out.

Understanding human behavior, along with our deep-seated fear of the unknown, is critical. Regardless how many times a person has had their blood drawn, that fear is just under the surface of even the most stoic of patients. Adults can be a tough crowd. We have preconceived ideas about needles, and our experiences in the past can color our reactions. Excellent bedside manner can reduce the fear, or at the very least, temper it. Children are affected by their parents’ fears and their words. Bedside manner can calm a child, and their parent.

Phlebotomists don’t just stick needles in people. We use large doses of psychology during each patient interaction. We need to be technically savvy regarding our procedures. Most of us are required to know how and when to perform CPR. We must know how to react should a patient faint. We must be alert to aggression or negativity toward the procedure. We must try hard not take anything personally. Should we do something that must be remedied - bedside manner is key. It’s projected in our demeanor, our facial expressions, our touch, and our words - throughout the procedure. And, we must do these things simultaneously.

As a patient, I can tell immediately if a phlebotomist is impersonal and does not care about my well-being. I’m put off by a Phlebotomist who exhibits an attitude of superiority due to their position. I expect an excellent bedside manner, and have the right to refuse any Phlebotomist should I feel uncomfortable. So do the patients we come in contact with, wherever we work.
Personally, I want to treat every patient that comes to me with the respect they are due, so that they will see my profession in a better light. When my patients come to me with the knowledge that I take very good care of them… then I have performed my job flawlessly.

Jesse Harris has experience as a paramedic, MA, CNA and phlebotomist. He currently works as a phlebotomist at Country Doctor Community Health Clinics in Seattle, Washington. In his spare time he enjoys writing and helping organizations provide elder care for the LGBT community in the Seattle area.  

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