It should be common knowledge that you cannot share needles between patients in a clinical or hospital setting. In fact, doing so could be considered a form of hospital negligence.
Unfortunately, in some hospitals, staff members may fail to recognize that insulin pens should be treated the same way as needles and never reused.
According to a recent news report, a Connecticut hospital is busy warning more than 3,100 patients that they may have been exposed to HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C after it was discovered nurses there were reusing insulin pens.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time a hospital has made this mistake. Some say insulin pens should not be used in hospitals due to this specific type of risk.
Hospital Warns Patients of Exposure
The troubles at the Connecticut hospital came to light when a nurse raised suspicions by asking if insulin pens could be reused. The hospital began an investigation and discovered five nurses who had either seen the pens reused or had reused the pens themselves.
More than 3,000 patients have been informed of the need to be tested for disease after possible exposure in the last six years. So far, no one has become ill from the hospital’s mistake, according to the Connecticut Post.
Hospital administrators say they have contacted the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid and self-reported the error. Also, the Department of Health has opened an investigation.
Why Are Insulin Pens Dangerous If Reused?
The insulin pens used at this particular hospital are called FlexPens. They are made by Novo Nordisk, a Danish company. They are injectors that hold an insulin cartridge. They have a single-use retractable needle that can be removed.
Nurses at the hospital mistakenly assumed that removing the needles was precaution enough. But the plastic tube-like injector must be thrown away as well because it can become contaminated due to the backflow of skin cells or blood.
Thousands of hospitals across the U.S. use these pens, and several have found themselves in hot water over reusing the injectors. Recent events include:
- 700 patients in a Buffalo, N.Y., hospital potentially exposed due to the reuse of insulin pens in January 2013
- More than 4,000 patients from an Oceanside, N.Y., hospital receiving letters in February 2014 that they may have been exposed through pen reuse
- A Texas hospital informing more than 2,000 people in 2009 that they had been exposed to the risk of infections due to pen reuse
- A Wisconsin hospital admitting to an insulin pen reuse mistake in 2009 that may have impacted more than 2,000 patients.
While hospitals can train their entire nursing staff, a newcomer could slip through the cracks. The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) says it only takes one new nurse or temporary replacement to make the mistake of using the pen more than once.
The ISMP says hospitals should reconsider their use of the pens entirely if they hope to avoid situations like the one this Connecticut hospital now finds itself in. In fact, the hospital reports that it has discontinued the use of the insulin pens.
Michael Cohen of the ISMP says that while he is not aware of anyone becoming sick from the device reuse, it may be only a matter of time before one is reported.