Two medical professionals say there is good news about Griffin Hospital’s alarming announcement that it misused medical devices: These were Flex Pens, not syringes.
“If it was a regular syringe, it would be much worse,” said Dr. C. Michael White, professor and head of the Department of Pharmacy Practice at the University of Connecticut.
Griffin nurses may have exposed patients to hepatitis B, C and HIV over the last 5 1/2 years, but White and Dr. Nicholas Bennett from Connecticut Children’s Medical Center point out Griffin Hospital’s Flex Pens contained insulin needles, which are far less invasive than a syringe.
“Very, very small needles, and they’re not really used, even for intravenous injection, so they’re more for going into the skin, so the risk of blood exposure for those needles is very small,” said Dr. Bennett, who is the medical director for CCMC’s Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology.
Griffin doctors said the Flex Pen needles were not used more than once or on different patients.
But Bennett said, even if repeat needle use did occur, the chances of contamination are slim.
“In a setting where the needle has been discarded after use and all you’re left with is the injector or the device, then that risk is even lower,” he said.
But there’s still some risk, and it’s somewhat of a physics lesson.
“The pressure is pushing it in this direction,” said White, holding up a pen as an example. “It goes into the cells, it goes into the interstitial fluid and it creates extra pressure because you’re putting volume where it wasn’t before, and that creates a back-pressure against the device.”
That back-pressure can suck infected skin and blood cells into the Flex Pen’s cartridge.
But again, doctors say it’s highly unlikely that happened, and it’s even less likely that those fluids were infected and then transferred to other patients.
“Definitely good that they contacted everyone. Open, honesty, but I think it’s a case of being very cautious,” said Bennett.
While he and White commend Griffin hospital officials for bringing this issue to light, both also said this situation happened for no other reason but operator error.