By Casey Ross, The Plain Dealer

on April 14, 2016 at 7:00 AM, updated April 14, 2016 at 7:10 AM

CLEVELAND, Ohio — In a medical world where devices and procedures are constantly changing, the process of drawing blood has remained painfully consistent: A doctor needs a sample, you get stuck with a needle.

But at University Hospitals, inpatients might soon get relief from that universal rule.

The health system this week became the first academic medical center in the United States to begin using a needle-free device that allows doctors and nurses to collect multiple blood samples without repeatedly sticking their patients.

The PIVO system, developed by Velano Vascular, draws blood through a small plastic tube that is threaded through a patient’s IV catheter. No needle. No need to poke the patient.

“This has the potential to significantly improve the patient experience here,” said Cheryl O’Malley, vice president of medical-surgical services at UH. “Patients will forgive one or two sticks because they’re in the hospital and they’re sick, but after that it is one of their most common complaints.”

The PIVO device is designed for use on inpatients, not for outpatients who visit the doctor for a quick test or check up. In many cases, inpatients need regular blood draws and have to be rousted at all hours to get stuck with a needle.

PIVO allows the procedure to be performed with minimal pain and disruption, UH administrators said. It also has the potential to reduce infection by eliminating the need for central-line blood draws.

However, its effectiveness is still being evaluated.

Though approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the device is just beginning to be piloted in hospitals. UH is testing it in the telemetry and cardiac intensive care units at its Case Medical Center in Cleveland. After reviewing its impact on patients and nurses, the health system will determine whether to use it in other hospitals.

The PIVO system is also being tested in a clinical study at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston — a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. But the roll-out at UH is the first time an academic medical center has deployed it in a real-world hospital setting.

Velano Vascular, the company that makes the device, is hoping the PIVO system sets a new standard of care in hospitals in the U.S. and worldwide. Blood draws are the most common invasive procedure in the U.S., with more than 400 million performed annually.

If adopted widely, the product could generate a windfall for the company, which has attracted funding from an array of investment firms and medical partners. Among its investors are First Round Capital, White Owl Capital, Kapor Capital, Safeguard Scientifics, Griffin Hospital, and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Velano’s chief executive and founder is Cleveland native Eric Stone who, as a teenager, was treated for Crohn’s disease at UH’s Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. Stone said he was motivated to pursue the product, in part, by the memory of being rousted at night to be stuck with a needle – an annoyance he hopes to end for future patients at Rainbow.

“When we see the first (blood) draw happen at Rainbow at some point in the next few weeks or month, that’s really going to be neat to see,” he said, adding that it’s been a moving experience to roll out his company’s invention in Cleveland.

For adult patients, he said, the product helps to reduce pain and discomfort, and for nurses it helps to reduce needle injuries. But he noted its benefits are most purely felt by children and their parents.

“In pediatrics, the focus is squarely one thing: We want to stick our kids less,” Stone said. “This (device) is as much for the caregivers and the parents and the loved ones as it is for the patients.”