COOS BAY – Inserting an intravenous needle is never fun for a patient, and it can be an ordeal for someone with narrow or hard-to-find veins. But new technology at Bay Area Hospital will save many of those patients from the discomfort and anxiety of multiple needle pokes.

The VeinViewer device uses harmless near-infrared light and a video camera to create a digital image of a patient’s veins. It then instantly projects the image back onto the patient’s skin, creating a precise map of blood vessels.

With veins appearing dark against a glowing green background, the image resembles an X-ray. In reality, it’s merely a projection of light and shadow.

“It’s not complicated,” said Susan Chaney, RN, manager of the hospital’s Family Birth Center. “It’s just a light, but it’s pretty cool.”

The birth center was the first hospital department to acquire a VeinViewer. A second device was put into use this week for the hospital’s pediatric, oncology and intermediate care units. The hospital may equip other departments with VeinViewers in the future.

The latest device cost Bay Area Hospital about $5,000, but it can pay for itself by saving time and medical supplies. Repeating a failed IV insertion requires replacing the needle and other supplies. A particularly difficult case may require bringing in a second staff member.

For patients, eliminating a second or third needle poke not only reduces discomfort; it also reduces the chance of infection.

“It’s going to help ensure patients’ safety,” said Amanda Bemetz, RN, a clinical staff educator.

The new technology has been especially helpful with the tiny veins of newborns, Chaney said. It also has benefits for moms in labor, she said. By illuminating veins in a patient’s forearm, the VeinViewer eliminates the need to insert the IV in the back of the hand, an unpleasant and cumbersome place to wear a tube.

According to its manufacturer, VeinViewer works because blood inside the patient’s veins absorbs the near-infrared light, while surrounding tissue reflects the light. So veins appear as dark lines, in sharp contrast to the bright green of the surrounding area.