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Intravenous catheters and the risk to patients

As a patient, you know that you need to be protected against infection and unnecessary pain. It's your medical provider's job to be sure you're as safe as possible during all phases of your care, from the ride in the ambulance to surgery and through your recovery.

One kind of medical error that might not be as serious as some others but which can still cause negative consequences is IV mistakes. IV mistakes can lead to patient injuries resulting in lasting scars or cause other concerns, like enhanced risk of infection. Every time an IV is performed, it should be properly documented, even if the vein is missed and a second stick is needed. Missing veins isn't particularly uncommon, especially when patients are dehydrated, but missing the first attempt still needs to be reported. Sometimes, switching the size of a needle or the angle can help reduce the risk of missing the vein on a first attempt.

Another thing that patients should watch out for is a puncture site that nurses or phlebotomists touch with dirty fingers or gloves. Once the site is swabbed with alcohol, the IV puncture area shouldn't be touched again. If a needle misses the vein, the emergency medical technician or phlebotomist should not touch the spot even with a gloved finger. Instead, a new alcohol swab should be used to prep the area again for a second try.

If the vein is blown, it's important that an EMT, doctor, nurse or other health care provider doesn't insert another IV into that area. The tourniquet should be removed immediately to reduce the risk and severity of the bruising.

If you've been treated in emergency care or had an IV for another reason and suffered an illness related to the IV itself, it's important to speak out and look into your options.

Source: The EMT Spot, "4 Sloppy IV Mistakes You Should Avoid," Steve Whitehead, accessed Jan. 17, 2017

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