When doctors get pricked

April 14, 2010 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

The use of needles is part and parcel of the medical profession. Thus, medical professionals have to learn to use needles properly for the safety of their patients as well as of their own.

A recent study revealed that inadvertent needle sticks occur rather commonly among medical school students. 59% of almost 700 medical school graduates admit to have been accidentally stuck by a needle at some point in their stint at med school.

Now, how can a teeny-weeny needle stick matter? Well, blood-borne diseases can be transmitted by needle sticks and some of these are diseases are serious and life-threatening – think about HIV and hepatitis C.

If you have any doubts about the dangers of needle sticks, then think about the case of medical technician Kirsten Parker who was recently sentenced to 30 years in prison for stealing drugs at the OR and putting back the used needles even though she knew she had hepatitis C. Several patients were infected.

Accidental needle pricks do not only happen among the novices at med school. Just as master chefs can cut themselves in the kitchen every now and then, even the most seasoned health professionals have lapses, too. Every year, according to the survey, more than 800,000 accidental needle sticks are reported within the health care sector. Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg because most cases go unreported.

So why don’t health professionals report needle sticks? The survey revealed a wide range of reasons, namely:

  • Too much paper work
  • Reporting needle sticks is admitting making a mistake, which for the experienced embarrassing and for the novice med student amounts to getting bad marks and low performance reviews
  • A general culture that makes reporting difficult

Med students are especially susceptible since they are underexperienced but under pressure to pressure to perform the menial tasks of putting in IV lines, giving injections, and stitching up.

According to lead author Dr. Martin Makary

“As a general principle, it seems wrong for us to put our least-trained people in the most high-risk situations.”

What is even troubling is the fact that 33% of those who got the accidental pricks were dealing, at the time of the accident, with patients who had history of intravenous drug use, HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C. And the health care professionals were aware of this.

Dr. Makary and his colleagues give recommendations to minimize needle sticks and some of these are:

  • Better teaching and certification of techniques in handling handles before students start clinical work
  • Surgical simulators may be used to teach skills
  • Use of blunt-tip needles
  • Wearing two layers of surgical gloves
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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.