Medical devices, such as some types of catheters, are the source of an estimated 25 percent of all health care-associated infections. But efforts to prevent infections linked to catheters may be falling short, according to a study from the University of Michigan.
It’s common for patients to have indwelling (meaning inside the body) urinary and vascular catheters placed during a hospital stay. A urinary catheter, sometimes called a Foley catheter, is placed through the urethra and into the bladder to drain and collect urine. A central line intravenous catheter, also known as a central venous catheter or peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC), may be inserted into a vein in the neck, chest, or arm to administer medication, fluids, or blood. However, both types of catheters are associated with an increased risk of urinary tract and bloodstream infections, respectively. The risk of infection increases the longer a catheter remains in place.
The University of Michigan researchers examined the protocols for timely removal of catheters at Michigan Medical, a large academic medical center. What they found was cause for concern: Communication among doctors, nurses, and other health care workers regarding catheters was so poor that removal of unneeded catheters was delayed, putting their patients at risk for potentially deadly infections.
The workers partially blamed delays on confusing or incomplete paperwork and electronic records, doctor and nurse scheduling conflicts that prevented face-to-face discussions, and uneasy professional relationships between doctors and nurses.
Although the Michigan study was limited to one hospital and didn’t reflect all hospitals’ protocols, catheter-associated infections remain an all-too-common occurrence in many hospitals.
What you should do
If you’re hospitalized with a catheter, make sure your doctor addresses the need for it every day. If you experience redness, soreness, swelling, warmth, pain, or leaking at a vascular catheter insertion site, speak up immediately.
This article first appeared in UC Berkeley Health After 50.