Reports of retained guidewires draw attention to 'never events' in anesthesia

June 20, 2013

San Francisco, CA. (June 20, 2013) - Retention of guidewires used to place central venous catheters (CVCs) is a complication that is considered always preventable--but nevertheless still happens, according to a report in the July issue of Anesthesia & Analgesia, official journal of the International Anesthesia Research Society (IARS).

Dr Andrea Vannucci and colleagues report their hospital's experience of four patients with retained guidewires, and analyze risk factors for these rare, preventable medical errors. A pair of accompanying editorials support the need for more open discussion of so-called "never events," along with systems approaches to minimize the chances of their occurring.

'Never Events' Should Never Happen...But Still Do

Dr Vannucci and coauthors report on four cases of retained guidewires after CVC placement. Guidewires help in placing CVCs, which are widely used for patient monitoring, fluid or drug administration, and other essential purposes. All four patients underwent CVC placement during complex surgeries such as lung transplantation. The presence of the guidewire was missed on routine postoperative x-rays, and went unrecognized for up to two days after surgery.

Dr Vannucci and colleagues analyzed each case in detail to identify potential contributing factors. Retained guidewires are regarded as "sentinel" safety problem or "never event"--they should never occur as long as routine precautions are followed.

All four patients became unstable during surgery, requiring "urgent and complex" procedures. In two cases, there was confusion related to the use of two different guidewires.

Another contributing factor was "inattention blindness"-- because of the patients' unstable condition, supervising doctors were distracted from ensuring that residents assisting in the operating room followed proper steps in guidewire and CVC placement. "We suggest that distraction of the clinicians and task interruptions resulted in unrecognized deviations from proper technique, which resulted in intravascular guidewire loss," Dr Vannucci and coauthors write.

Even After Precautions, Further Episodes Occur

After the first two cases, steps were introduced to prevent further incidents, including a mandatory training program for residents. Despite these changes, a third event occurred two years later. A "pop-up" reminder regarding guidewire removal was introduced into the electronic medical record--yet the fourth case occurred the following year.

Based on a "root cause analysis," additional preventive measures were introduced, including a checklist to guide every CVC placement. Further training included CVC placement steps to make it less likely for a retained guidewire to be overlooked. "This training recognizes that errors will occur," Dr Vannucci and coauthors write, "but that procedures can be designed to minimize error frequency, decrease the severity of errors when they inevitably occur, and recognize errors before they cause irreversible harm."

In an accompanying editorial by Drs Robert B. Schonenberger and Paul G. Barasch of Yale University School of Medicine applaud the authors' courage in sharing their experience with and response to preventable medical errors. They warn that CVC insertion should never be regarded as a "mundane, routine, or commonplace" technique.

In a separate editorial, Drs Jeffrey Green and John Butterworth of Virginia Commonwealth University emphasize the need to "re-engineer the process" of CVC placement. They conclude, "Only after we adopt systems approaches to counter the failure modes present in many of the high-risk activities in anesthesiology will we begin to move these sentinel events into the 'never' category."
-end-
Read the article in Anesthesia & Analgesia. The journal is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, part of Wolters Kluwer Health.

About Anesthesia & Analgesia

Anesthesia & Analgesia was founded in 1922 and was issued bi-monthly until 1980, when it became a monthly publication. A&A is the leading journal for anesthesia clinicians and researchers and includes more than 500 articles annually in all areas related to anesthesia and analgesia, such as cardiovascular anesthesiology, patient safety, anesthetic pharmacology, and pain management. The journal is published on behalf of the IARS by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (LWW), a division of Wolters Kluwer Health.

About the IARS

The International Anesthesia Research Society is a nonpolitical, not-for-profit medical society founded in 1922 to advance and support scientific research and education related to anesthesia, and to improve patient care through basic research. The IARS contributes nearly $1 million annually to fund anesthesia research; provides a forum for anesthesiology leaders to share information and ideas; maintains a worldwide membership of more than 15,000 physicians, physician residents, and others with doctoral degrees, as well as health professionals in anesthesia related practice; sponsors the SmartTots initiative in partnership with the FDA; and publishes the monthly journal Anesthesia & Analgesia in print and online.

About Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (LWW) is a leading international publisher of trusted content delivered in innovative ways to practitioners, professionals and students to learn new skills, stay current on their practice, and make important decisions to improve patient care and clinical outcomes.

LWW is part of Wolters Kluwer Health, a leading global provider of information, business intelligence and point-of-care solutions for the healthcare industry. Wolters Kluwer Health is part of Wolters Kluwer, a market-leading global information services company with 2012 annual revenues of €3.6 billion ($4.6 billion).

Wolters Kluwer Health

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