Getting Blood Drawn

Parent Q&A

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  • Can anyone recommend a facility that does a great job with pediatric blood draws?  We had a very negative and unsuccessful experience at Children's Hospital recently and are looking for somewhere else to go.  My daughter is very fearful of needles especially blood draws, we did tons of prep work getting her ready emotionally and logistically for the blood draw and she was a total champ about it, but the nurse wasn't able to extract any blood (and we had made sure my daughter was well hydrated) and left a painful bruise.  Very frustrating experience and now we have to do it again.  Anywhere non-Kaiser will likely work for our insurance.  Thanks so much!

    I'm so sorry about your daughter's experience. As a pediatrician I would say your experience at Children's is not typical and it may be worth trying again there with a different person (and let them know about your prior experience and ask for someone with expertise in difficult situations). that said, I've had a lot of patients (including babies and toddlers) have good experiences at the Labcorp in the Colby street building (across from Alta Bates). In terms of needle fear, you may already know all of this but imaginaction by Stanford is helpful for many kids (free video coaching for needle phobia, anxiety, insomnia, etc at, EMLA  numbing cream can also be helpful (can ask your pediatrician about this if you want it). I hope the next time is better!

    There is a pediatric draw station (lab) at UCSF Mission Bay on the 3rd floor of the Gateway outpatient clinic building: 1825 4th Street. They only do pediatrics and obviously are quite used to and adept at working with needle-phobic kids. Of course, the same could theoretically be said about Children’s Oakland, where it sounds like you had a hard time. If you’re looking for a new location with new mojo and Pedi-skilled phlebotomists, UCSF Mission Bay is probably your best bet. Good luck! Hydration is important, and also warmth - you could use a couple of those hand/pocket warmers (the ones you take skiing) ahead of time to relax and dilate the veins. Some kids are just hard sticks. 

  • I need to get my daughter's blood drawn for lead testing. I know well the difference really experienced phlebotomists can make and want that experience for my daughter. She's almost 3.

    Two questions:

    1) Recommendations for East Bay Area phlebotomists covered by Kaiser that you know, first hand, are great with toddlers and blood draws? I am in the El Sobrante/Pinole area, but will drive to any Kaiser center within about an hour drive for a place that specializes in blood draws on toddlers or otherwise has lots of experience with them.

    I see the Oakland Kaiser Medical Center has pediatric specialty departments, including a lab (I think, hard to tell from the website, will call them)-- anyone have experience with this center?

    2) Any general tips and ideas on making the blood draw as not scary as possible for my daughter are also appreciated.  

    Thank you!!

    We had to do various tests on our son when he was about 1 year old, and a lot of blood had to be drawn.  The pediatric phlebotomists at Kaiser Oakland were great.  The pediatric lab is separate from the general lab and they are trained with babies and young children.  It will be fine.  Also, I'm surprised the lead testing hasn't been done earlier - we did ours at about 18 months, I think (he's now about 2 years old), so it seems like she's overdue for the testing at 3 years old.

    We had to take both of our twins for multiple blood tests when they were 2 years old.  To be honest, yes, it wasn't fun.  A couple of things seemed to help though -- first, have them drink LOTS of fluids before the blood draw (we gave them all sorts of "special treat" drinks like juice and soda so that they were excited to drink a lot) and second, when you arrive at the medical center, take about 10 minutes to run your kid around like crazy outside, enough so that they are sweating, if possible.  This kind of exercise opens up their veins.  Hope that helps.

    I used Oakland pediactric lab for a few blood draws on my son and they were amazing. Just let your daughter know that ahead of time that she will have blood drawn and do what they tell you (to help hold her still for the procedure). Let her know it will be very fast IF she holds still and that afterward there will be a little reward (which you can bring with you). It's not ever fun, but they are professional and good at what they do, so let them lead the show.

    I just want to give another recommendation for the Kaiser Oakland Pediatric Lab. I've had several of their phlebotomists draw on both of my kids multiple times between ages 1-4 yrs -- each kid had to get multiple blood draws each year. My kids actually watch the phlebotomist draw their blood now (ages 2 & 4). They cry when they get vaccines, but just stare with curious wonder while their blood fills the little tubes for the draws. It's pretty remarkable -- and only possible because they've had such good experiences with that team.

    The thing to remember is that your kid doesn't know what a blood draw is, and therefore isn't scared of it. Your child will respond to YOUR emotions about it. If you are nonchalant about it, treat it just like this thing that you have to do, she won't be worked up about it. The only things she will know are what you tell her. It's not scary unless you tell her it's scary. I know that you're scared! Your job is to prevent her from seeing that! She'll be just fine. (And so will you!)

    (And to the previous reply about timing of lead testing---you generally don't have to do lead testing at all if your house was built after 1978.)

    We've had great experiences with the phlebotomists at the Kaiser Oakland pediatric department. It's right next to the pharmacy in the Broadway pediatric building. I'm not saying my kids weren't nervous but it was quick and they were really good with little kids. My advice is to just keep it simple and matter of fact and don't talk it up a lot before hand. Just let her know today we're going to the doctor and when you're there let her know what's going to happen and that it will hurt a little but will be quick and she can sit on your lap while they do it. Kids, even at 3, pick up our anxiety and fear easily so if you're freaked out she will be too. I've had to hold one of my kids once for blood draws and the phlebotomists are experienced with this and they make the procedure as quick and cheerful for them as possible. 

    Yes, Kaiser Oakland is great. Just go there.

    Sorry to hear your child needs a blood draw - it can be overwhelming for them and you! I have had to get blood draw for both my kids and while I don't have Kaiser, we've had bad, ok and good experiences. The fastest and least painful draws seem to be done by people who have to do draws on tough patients. For example, when one of my kids was a baby the phlebotomists at Oakland Children's hospital ended up sticking her four times without success. You would think people who only draw kids would be able to, but they couldn't. We ended up demanding to see a nurse in the nicu at Alta Bates because they are able to do draws and IVs in very small babies. They got it on the first try and with almost no cries! You might want to see if a nurse in the PICU might be a better option than the plebotomist in the lab. 

    Also, youtube videos work really well for the toddler age. They don't get screen time very often so it's super engaging when they do.

    good luck!

    Our son has had a couple of blood draws at Kaiser Oakland in the pediatric building (Mosswood). Your Kaiser pediatrician should be able to easily make a referral for you and direct you to the right place. I was so pleasantly surprised at how well it went. The first time, he was just a baby and still nursing, so he was easily comforted with a little milk afterwards. The second time, when he was about 2.5, we just talked about it a lot beforehand so he was prepared. And we made it very light and fun so it didn't seem scary, telling him how it might tickle and how cool it will be to see his blood. He ended up giggling during the actual draw because he found it so funny. The hardest part was keeping myself relaxed and smiling so he wouldn't see how nervous I was! You could also try practicing with props at home beforehand so she's at least walked through the process. We've found this works well when preparing for the dentist. Good luck!

    I previously worked in a children's hospital (I'm  an RN) and we had 3 different types of local anesthetic (one cream and two sprays) to help with numbing the area when doing a blood draw or IV. I don't have a recommendation of a lab or phlebotomist but when you decide where, maybe call and see if they are equipped with some type of topical anesthetic/numbing to help with the pain of the poke. In-patient at the hospital we also used child life specialists to help distract and entertain kids for blood draws. I know parents have differing opinions and rules regarding technology/screens but this is a time when letting your child play a special new or favorite game on the iPad can truly work wonders. Have something planned ahead of time and be prepared to get your child engaged and focused on something other than the poke on their arm. Never underestimate the power of a well planned distraction!  As for educating and explaining I'm a big proponent of telling your child ahead of time (for her age maybe the morning of or the day before if you think she will respond well). You don't have to give her all the details but something like, "We are going to the doctor's office today. It's not going to take too long. You will probably feel a tiny poke on your arm and it might sting a little but I will be with you the whole time and I have some special treats planned."  You know your child best and if you feel she is more sensitive or anxious keep this as short and simple as possible. Answer questions honestly and concretely. Focus on things she will be able to understand and the fact that she still has you for security and comfort.  It's my opinion that you should tell her before and not just spring a surprise doctors visit with a poke which ultimately may make her fearful of doctor visits in the future.  She will be great and you will be great!  Good luck!

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Gentle phlebotomist for someone needle phobic

Oct 2010

My partner is totally needle photic, needs to have several vials of blood drawn for routine blood tests. Seeking recommendation for gentle, empathetic and quick phlebotomist in Oakland or Berkeley or Orinda. Hoping to help

My advice is to go to tell whatever phlebotomist about the phobia first. My experience is that phlebotomists are generally very quick and efficient and with my kids, good at distraction. Most of the problems we've had have been with nurses or doctors who do so many other things during the day and sometimes struggle to find veins or whatever. Real phlebotomists do only this one things over and over all day, every day, so they are fast and rarely make mistakes... anon
Both the lady phlebotomists in the Orinda Quest are excellent. 15 alta orinda rd. I am a long term donor and also have gotten blood tests for the past 30+ years. I never ran across a better phlebotomist than Orinda. I think her name was Laura in Orinda. I always have felt the needle, but never with her work. Hands down the best. Heavier set white woman, best needle sticker I have ever encountered. Not even felt a pinch, somehow she knows how to escape the pinch one usually feels when the needle enters. I was amazed time and time again. emc

Pediatric blood draw?

Aug 2009

Might anyone have a recommendation of an excellent pediatric phlebotomist in the El Cerrito/Berkeley/Oakland area? All of the postings on the website are at least four years old. Thanks in advance.

Our son had to have blood drawn twice, when he was two and eight weeks old. We went to a couple of different labs and spoke with several phlebotomists. Only one of them was able to find a vein in his hand and get blood. Her name is May (sp?) and we saw her at Quest Diagnostics in San Pablo. I'm not sure if she works there full time or if she floats to other locations. You might want to call first before you go. Good luck! Betsy
My pediatrician recommended the Labcorp lab at 2915 Telegraph in Berkeley. They specialize in pediatric patients, and the waiting area is full of toys. been there a few times.
It's been four years, but when I had to get my kids' blood drawn for their 1 year lead tests, someone recommended going to Children's Hospital in Oakland. I was quite pleased -- they were very smooth and professional compared to those rinky-dink blood labs staffed by what seem to be teenagers. I remember a bit of hassle and wait with the registration/insurance paperwork, but otherwise it was a very good experience -- the kids barely noticed their blood was drawn. Suzanna
When my son was few months old, he had to have a significant blood draw for some tests. We were referred to Children's Hospital in Oakland, who did such a great job, he didn't even cry! Ellen

Brown & Toland for infant's blood draw?

Sept 2005

Anyone had good Brown & Toland Lab experiences with having blood drawn from infant? My son is 9m and needs some routine tests run. We just had 2 terrible experiences - one where the tech couldn't find a vein & tried searching while the needle was inserted (I hate when they do that). My son was screaming. The next lab let me stand at the check in window for over 10min while completely ignoring me - this after I had already spent 15min in another line to just register. Really unprofessional. Please help! Thanks! Elizabeth

One of the best Bay Area pediatric phlebotomists is Tina at UCSF, 400 Parnassus, 2nd floor. UCSF is a Brown & Toland provider, and Tina has incredible intuitive abilities when it comes to drawing blood from hard to find veins on the first try. Although she does not have a warm fuzzy personality (in fact she is all business and not very friendly at all), it is worth the trip to San Francisco to have your child poked only once. I tried using Children's Hospital to save a trip to the City, but ended up walking out after my son was poked twice with no success. Just make sure you call the General Pediatrics number at (415) 353-2000 before traveling to the City to make sure Tina is still there. Good luck with your search. Charlotte

Quest or Unilab for child's blood draw?

June 2005

I have Healthnet HMO with Hills Physicians Medical Group for my son. He recently saw a neurologist at Children's Hospital Oakland who ordered a variety of blood and urine lab tests inclucing very specialized DNA testing. I was told that I could not use the lab upstairs at Children's Hospital because with Hill's he MUST use Quest or Unilab or the neurologist must submit a special authorization request with a reason to use the lab at Children's. Are they equipped to handle this type of testing and for a small 10 year-old? Also, If you have used any of these labs before which one would you recommend in Oakland or Berkeley? Thanks! sharlene

My son had to have his blood drawn when he was about 1 year old. I thought it was going to be a big deal, so I waited for a time when I could have another adult with me (in case I had to comfort my son, someone else could handle the paperwork, etc.) I went to the Quest/Unilab on Telegraph just north of Ashby (on the east side of the street; find the camera store on the corner, and then head a couple of buildings towards campus). It was a gray building, with a small driveway to the left leading to a parking lot in back.

THe technician was fabulous; my son did great; I could have handled the situation by myself. I remember at the time thinking ''wow, I should write a letter to the manager about how great the technician is,'' but alas, never did. Unfortunately, I don't know her name! Anita

I can only answer part of your question. I believe Unilab was bought by Quest. I have been to the facility in Berkeley on Regent Street, which is pretty good (but you'll pay for parking), the one on Telegraph at 30th Street, which is AWFUL, and the one in Alameda very near to the Office Max off of Otis. I highly recommend the one in Alameda. More of a trip, but they have a nice, big waiting room, which is great if your son's tests involve any waiting (as in ''drink this and we'll draw your blood in an hour'' sort of thing).

I don't know if they are as good at doing tests on children as they are Oakland Children's. As an adult, I couldn't really complain (beyond the complaint that I was being stuck with needles); I never experienced any multiple sticks or ''punched through the vein''.

I would still recommend being well versed in what you are being tested for and what is required (as in, fasting vs. not, keeping an eye on the clock if you're supposed to be retested an hour later, etc. I will say that I was almost given the wrong glucose test once (at Berkeley) and was once in danger of not being taken back at the required time marker (at Oakland). But I figure that can happen anywhere and that one has to manage one's own health care. Erin

Labs that handle kids well

October 2003

I need to take my 4 year-old daughters to have their blood drawn for a panel of tests. We had a very unpleasant experience at a lab near East Bay Pediatrics when they were infants. Does anyone have a recommendations for a lab which handles kids well - as in quickly and efficiently but also prepared for kids to be difficult. I'd prefer North Berkeley and north, but all suggestions are welcome. I couldn't find anything in the archives. Thank you, Lori

I've always taken my son (29 months) to Children's Hospital. My doctor recommended that this is where I should go to have the blood work done. In most cases they are fast and safe, however I did have one incident where they had to stick him twice because they thought they'd gotten enough, and didn't. That was the only visit that bothered me but I reckon, it's not an easy thing to handle with infants and toddlers. Good Luck to you and baby! Tiffany
I highly recommend Children's Hospital Oakland. We've had a lot of experience there and the staff are wonderful. kelcush
I took my terrified 5-year-olds for blood testing last summer, to Quest Diagnostics, on Telegraph Ave., and asked for the specific technician our pediatrician recommended, and it was fine, despite my fears. She joked with them, showed them the ''tube'' she would use and put them at ease. I don't recall the tech's name right now, but if you call Quest and request the woman who is good with kids, they'll know and tell you which office she is in,at what times(they have 2 offices across the street from each other). You could also call Bayside Medical, on Telegraph and ask for her name, since they sent us to her. good luck!
Children's Hospital in Oakland has lab techs who are experienced with children and also like kids! I generally take my kids there for any labs they need eve
The best place to have a child's blood drawn is the lab at Children's Hospital. Some insurance will cover this. It's worth checking out. Been There
We went to the unilab on solano ave (ross street Stannage.) They were quick and efficient. The lab tech was nice and gave my son a sticker before he took his blood to distract him. We had no tears and my son is only 20 months. This lab is great because there is virtually no wait except when they first open. Good luck Rochelle
My 13mnth old daughter has had blood drawn twice at children's hospital and both times the nurses were quick and made it as painless as possible. the only drawback is that you have to sign in downstairs first and the wait can be long depending on the time of day. between 12-2 seems to be the best time. chalyn
There were a lot of positive posts for Children's Hospital but we had a very negative experience there and will never return. My daughter had her blood drawn at 16 months old and we had a very inexperienced technician who drew the blood from my daughter's hand. Why she would do this is beyond me because, after the draw, my daughter immediately pulled the band-aid off and began screaming at all the blood - not to mention that it got all over her clothes. The rather bored technician made the comment that 'yes, hands tend to bleed a lot'. By then my daughter was hysterical and we left without so much as an apology. In hindsight, I should have demanded that her blood be drawn from her arm so that I could hide the band-aid under her shirt sleeve and she wouldn't have the inclination to pull at it. But, with technicians who supposedly work with kids, you'd think they would have known that. Also, if you are not already at Children's for a Dr.'s app't, it is difficult to park and the wait can take some time before having blood drawn. I've found the little lab offices off of Telegraph to be quicker, more professional and much cleaner. - anon