Reuse of Insulin Pens May Have Spread Hepatitis

By ThinkReliability Staff

After a similar incident at a Veterans hospital, a hospital in New York reviewed its insulin injection procedures and discovered that insulin pens may have been used for more than one patient.  Re-use of insulin pens for more than a single patient carries a small risk of cross-contamination, which can result in a patient being infected with a communicable disease, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or HIV.

The hospital notified 1,915 patients who had received injections between November  2009 and January 2013 of the possibility for contamination and recommended testing.  Twelve patients have tested positive for Hepatitis C, and one has tested positive for Hepatitis B, though an investigation is ongoing to determine if this is related to the injections.

The use of insulin pens resulted in 30 outbreaks from syringe or needle reuse over ten years, from 2001-2010. So, although the possibility for cross-contamination is considered low, the risk for the spreading of communicable diseases is unacceptably high.

The potential for spreading communicable diseases is an important impact to the patient safety and environmental goals.  We can examine these impacted goals and the cause-and-effect relationships that led to these impacts, in a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis.

We begin by defining the impacts to the goals.  In addition to the patient safety goal, the compliance goal is impacted because re-using insulin pens is against recommendations by the FDA and CDC.  The organizational goal is  impacted due to a lawsuit from the patients who have tested positive for Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.  Patient services are impacted due to the improper reuse of the insulin pens, and the labor and property goals are impacted by the additional follow-up, testing and potential treatment for the almost 2,000 patients affected.  Once we have determined the impacts to an organization’s goals, we can ask “Why” questions, which helps develop cause-and-effect relationships that resulted in these impacts.

Insulin pens are designed for multiple injections, meaning that there is stored insulin within the cartridge after a single injection is given.  Backflow of blood into the pen can result in the remaining insulin being contaminated.  This can result in the spread of communicable disease if the pen is then used on a different patient for subsequent injections.

Because it is known that insulin pens should not be used on multiple patients, it is evident that there was an issue with the procedure or policy regarding use of insulin pens.  It is unclear what the specific issues were relating to this incident, but the hospital involved has reviewed and reinforced policies and procedures related to insulin injection.

Many facilities, including the hospital discussed here, which discovered the potential for re-use during a review after a similar incident at a Veteran’s hospital, have discontinued the use of insulin pens due to the potential for cross-contamination.

To view the Outline and Cause Map, please click “Download PDF” above.  Or click here to read the hospital’s press release.

Click here to visit our previous blog about about hepatitis B and C.

Click here to visit our previous blog about a different contamination issue involving hepatitis C.