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Just how safe are the IV devices used by hospitals?

When most people are admitted to the hospital, they take it for granted that the medical equipment used in their care is both effective and safe. While there is certainly nothing wrong with this, it is nevertheless important to understand that even the most effective medical equipment is not without safety risks of which both physicians and nurses should be aware.  

To illustrate, consider a recently released study by researchers at the University of Michigan concerning IV devices commonly found in the arms of thousands of hospital patients.

What IV devices did the researchers examine?

The IV devices examined by the researchers were peripherally inserted central catheters or PICCs. For those unfamiliar with this device, it is a thin tube placed in the arm of a patient that can be passed through the veins and near the heart. It's used as a mechanism for everything from delivering antibiotics and liquid nutrition to taking blood samples.

Indeed, the relative ease with which PICCs can be placed and their various uses have made it a favorite of medical professionals.

What safety risks did the researchers find were presented by the use of PICCs?

The researchers examined the hospital records of 909 patients from 2012-2013, all of whom were outfitted with PICCs. Here, they discovered that 268 of these patients developed deep vein thrombosis, which are essentially blood clots that form in the arms of patients resulting in pain, blocked lines, and even death should the clot break free and enter the lungs (i.e., a pulmonary embolism).

Patients taking either statins or aspirin prior to their hospital stay or who were outfitted with narrower PICCs were found to be less at risk of developing a DVT, while those who underwent surgery or had a history of clots were found to be at an elevated risk of developing a DVT.

Does this mean that medical professionals should not use PICCs?

No. The researchers indicate that the results of the study indicate that medical professionals need to be a bit more judicious about use of PICCs, determining ahead of time whether a patient is a suitable candidate and, if so, carefully monitoring them for clots and taking other precautions.

What about patients?

The researchers indicated that doctors and nurses need to take the time to advise patients of any risks associated with PICCs beforehand. That's because it can enable them to better identify symptoms indicating a possible clot.

Here's hoping hospitals take note of the danger identified in this study and implement the necessary precautions to keep patients safe.

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