Legal Issuess

It is very important for phlebotomists to understand the legal issues that are associated with their profession. Legal issues that affect phlebotomy jobs include quality assurance, risk management, collection standards, and chain of custody. The chain of custody, or the tracking of a specimen from collection through the testing procedures to verify that it wasn't altered or contaminated, becomes an especially important legal consideration when blood is obtained as evidence in a criminal arrest situation, also referred to as a forensic blood collection.

The majority of legal issues faced by phlebotomists center on negligence and failure to follow standard operating procedures. Examples of phlebotomy negligence are:

  • Failure to observe signs of imminent loss of consciousness that results in a patient falling and sustaining a serious injury.
  • Leaving a patient unattended if a tourniquet has already been applied or if the patient is showing signs of not feeling well.
  • Selecting an inappropriate collection technique.
  • Nerve damage at the collection site.
  • Repeated collection failures, "misses," that result in a hematoma, a type of "blood bruise," that in turn develops complications.
  • Improper specimen handling, storage, or disposal.
  • Conduct that is unbecoming of a healthcare professional.

Virtually all hospitals, laboratories, and organizations that handle blood or specimen collection are required to carry liability insurance. The insurance helps protect the company from people suing for malpractice or negligence. Insurance premiums can be lowered if the company agrees to hire only certified personnel who have been thoroughly trained in nationally accepted medical standards and procedures. This is why most employers require phlebotomists to maintain current certification with an approved agency even if their state does not have a law requiring phlebotomists to be certified.

Healthcare workers, including phlebotomists, can be sued personally for negligence or malpractice. Most suits against healthcare workers are civil actions where a party who believes they have been injured sues for damages in the form of money. However, if it is determined that the healthcare worker intentionally attempted to harm, injure, or even kill a patient, then criminal charges could be filed.

Naturally, it is important for phlebotomists to maintain high professional standards and follow established protocols with precision in order to prevent accidents and injuries that could result in costly legal battles.