GAO Report Reviews Cost, Benefit of Needlestick Prevention Devices

Approximately 69,000 needlesticks in hospitals can be prevented in\r\none year through the use of needles with safety features, according a GAO report.

Approximately 69,000 needlesticks in hospitals can be prevented in one year through the use of needles with safety features, according a General Accounting Office (GAO) report.

GAO examined the potential benefits and costs of changes that are mandated under the Health Care Worker Needlestick Prevention law, which requires the use of needles with safety features.

Injuries caused by needlesticks are a serious concern for the approximately 10 million health care workers in the United States, said GAO.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 384,000 puncture injuries occur annually in U.S. hospitals, with about 236,000 of these resulting from needlesticks involving hollow-bore needles.

Although the legislation applies to health care workers in all settings, GAO focused only on hospital settings.

It noted, however, that more than one-half of all health care workers are in nonhospital settings.

GAO''s analysis is based on data provided by CDC, the International Healthcare Worker Safety Center, the American Hospital Association, the states of California and Maryland, the Becton-Dickinson Corp., articles published in peer-reviewed medical journals and other sources dated between 1995 and 1999.

GAO found that approximately 69,000 needlesticks in hospitals can be prevented in one year through the use of needles with safety features.

However, the use of needles with safety features alone is insufficient to prevent the majority of needlestick injuries, according to GAO.

"Our analysis indicates that the use of needles with safety features may have financial benefits that exceed the cost of these features because they can reduce needlesticks and associated treatment costs for hospitals," said GAO. "The extent to which needles with safety features are cost effective depends on their incremental costs, the extent to which they reduce the risk of needlestick injury, and the costs of postexposure treatment of health care workers."

GAO concluded that although these factors and their potential costs and benefits cannot be measured exactly, eliminating 69,000 needlesticks could reduce the number of health care workers who become infected with HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C after sustaining a needlestick injury.

"Our analysis of CDC data shows that reducing needlesticks by this amount may prevent at least 25 cases of hepatitis B infection and at least 16 cases of hepatitis C infection per year," said GAO.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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