Intended for healthcare professionals


Failed phlebotomy? Think William Harvey

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 04 September 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g5232
  1. Keith L Dorrington, associate professor of physiology, Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3PT, United Kingdom,
  2. Jeffrey K Aronson, reader in clinical pharmacology, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford OX2 6GG, United Kingdom
  1. Correspondence to: jeffrey.aronson{at}

Why do health professionals take blood in the wrong direction? Shortly before his death in 1657, William Harvey told the young Robert Boyle that the main thing that convinced him of the circulation of the blood was that the valves in arm veins prevent flow down the arm.1 This is a truth universally acknowledged, but ignored, given that it is the retrograde direction in which all hopeful phlebotomists expect blood to flow into their needles. We sometimes get away with it, when the blood, travelling headwards up a vein, struggles past the occluding needle, does an about turn, and ends up in the right place. Sometimes. The headwards …

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