In the United States, 600,000-800,000 needlestick injuries are documented each year, yet studies have indicated that oftentimes these incidents go unreported.1 This begs the question: How truly prevalent are these events in the healthcare industry and why are they going undocumented?
One survey among hospital employees illustrated that 38 percent had sustained at least one needlestick in the past year alone, while 74 percent had suffered a needlestick injury during the span of their careers.2 A separate study from Johns Hopkins indicated that 99 percent of surgeons-in-training experienced an average of eight needle-stick injures in their first five years in the industry.1
In both cases, despite being aware of the fact that these events needed to be reported, only around half of the exposures were actually documented. Shockingly, doctors, nurses, lab technicians and pharmacists have a myriad of excuses not to report needlestick injuries – valid or not.
One of the most common excuses for not reporting a needlestick injury is the lack of education and perceived low risk of disease transmission associated with a seemingly minor event. Many healthcare workers falsely believe that reporting a needlestick injury and receiving prompt medical attention will not prevent infection.1 Additionally, certain healthcare providers will make judgments on whether or not to file a report based on the perceived health of their patients.2 As medical experts, many believe they can properly assess the risk based on each individual situation and make reports only when absolutely necessary.
Another popular excuse is that the whole reporting process takes far too long, and busy medical professionals simply do not have the time to fill out all of the paperwork. Currently the reporting system is extremely time consuming, and the current medical coding system in place in the United States does not allow for specific cataloging of a needlestick injury. Furthermore studies have shown that individuals would be more likely to report needlesticks if healthcare facilities used more effective reporting systems like internal hotlines or response teams.1
Unfortunately, often the failure to report needlestick injuries is due to an unwritten culture of silence in many medical communities surrounding these events. Many healthcare professionals are under the impression that speaking up about something like a needlestick might be detrimental to one’s career. It is commonly believed that needlesticks are just part of the job description and reporting them may cause your superiors and peers to think less of you.1
By not reporting needlestick injuries in the appropriate fashion, healthcare professionals are downplaying the seriousness of the issue at hand. Yet, with so many reasons not to stop and file a report, it would appear that the only solution to the problem is to prevent the possibility of exposure all together. Safer devices like jet injectors have been shown to reduce needlestick injuries in the industry by as much as 80 percent.3 Simply by selecting safer equipment, healthcare facilities can make a substantial impact not only on the well-being of their employees, but also on the health of their patients.
- Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. “Needle-stick Injuries Are Common But Unreported By Surgeons In Training.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 June 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/06/070627221733.htm>.
- Elmiyeh B, Whitaker IS, James MJ, et al. “Needle-stick injuries in the National Health Service: a culture of silence.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 2004;97(7):326–327.
- “Needlestick Injury.”WSNA.org. Washington State Nurses Association, n.d. <http://www.wsna.org/Topics/Workplace-Environment-You/Workplace-Hazards/Needlestick/>.