Healthcare is a dangerous business.
A recent study, conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, found that the average number of needle sticks in 60 large U.S. hospitals have topped 1,000 a day. The researchers concluded that about 384,000 needle-stick injuries occur among hospital healthcare workers each year.
This means that healthcare workers have 1,000 chances a day or 384,000 opportunities a year to contract bloodborne viruses such as Hepatitus B and C and HIV. The study was presented in March to the International Conference on Nosocomial and Health-Care Associated Infections meeting in Atlanta.
Although the estimation is smaller than some previous studies that count 800,000 needle-sticks annually, it confirms that the problem is far from solved. Not surprisingly, nursing staff was the most vulnerable, but labratorians, physicians and housekeeping staff were listed as among those counted as injured by the study.
These kinds of statistics hit home all too quickly. A friends brother, who spent four years studying to become a practicing R.N., contracted the AIDS virus within five years after his graduation. A retired woman in my neighborhood, who was the long-time lab director at a local hospital, now lives in a nursing home due to the debilitating effects of Hepatitus.
The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety recommends that healthcare workers avoid using needles when alternatives are available. And alternatives are becoming more readily available.
One recent innovation is the StatLock from Venetec International, of San Diego. The StatLock is an adhesive anchor that eliminates the need for suture needles to secure winged catheters. At least three published studies show that it decreases IV catheter restarts by more than 70 percent. It does this by eliminating the hollow-bore IV catheter stylets that would otherwise be used for unscheduled catheter restarts. By eliminating the need to use a needle, StatLock protects against needle-sticks.
The molded plastic, adhesive-backed discs with integrated catheter anchors are placed on the patients skin. The device holds an IV catheter firmly in place, reducing the risk of catheter dislodgment and the need for restarts. They are designed to fit Foley, epidural, peripheral and central venous catheters for both adults and children.
If the study data is extrapolated to the entire healthcare worker population, Venetec figures that the use of StatLock could take 85 million catheter re-starts, and their accompanying needle-stick risk, out of the healthcare system. Healthcare GPO giant Premier of Chicago, Charlotte, N.C., and San Diego is seriously considering adopting the StatLock technology for its member hospitals.
While this is good news for clinicians, it should also improve the lives of patients in both healthcare and homecare settings. Fewer nosocomial and home-based infections could keep people out of the healthcare system altogether. There also is potential for it to help curb the estimated 98,000 deaths that result from medical errors each year, according to a November 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine.
Since the legislation and regulation on this are only going to get more rigorous, we might as well get started.