Rates of phlebitis associated with peripheral venous catheters (PVC) ranged from less than 1% to 34% depending on which assessment tool researchers used in a large cross-sectional study.
Rates also varied within individual instruments because they included several possible case definitions, Katarina Göransson, PhD, and her associates reported in Lancet Haematology. “We find it concerning that our study shows variation of the proportion of PVCs causing phlebitis both within and across the instruments investigated,” they wrote. “How to best measure phlebitis outcomes is still unclear, since no universally accepted instrument exists that has had rigorous testing. From a work environment and patient safety perspective, clinical staff engaged in PVC management should be aware of the absence of adequately validated instruments for phlebitis assessment.”
There are many tools to measure PVC-related phlebitis, but no consensus on which to use, and past studies have reported rates of anywhere from 2% to 62%. Hypothesizing that instrument variability contributed to this discrepancy, the researchers tested 17 instruments in 1,032 patients who had 1,175 PVCs placed at 12 inpatient units in Sweden. Eight tools used clinical definitions, seven used severity rating systems, and two used scoring systems (Lancet Haematol. 2017).
Rates of PVC-induced phlebitis reached 12% (137 cases) when the researchers used case definition tools, up to 31% when they used scoring systems (P less than .0001), and up to 34% when they used severity rating systems (P less than .0001, compared with the 12% rate). “The proportion within instruments ranged from less than 1% to 28%,” they added. “We [also] identified face validity issues, such as use of indistinct or complex measurements and inconsistent measurements or definitions.”
The investigators did not perform a systematic review to identify these instruments, and they did not necessarily use the most recent versions, they noted. Nevertheless, the findings have direct implications for hospital quality control measures, which require using a single validated instrument over time to generate meaningful results, they said. Hence, the investigators recommended developing a joint research program to develop reliable measures of PVC-related adverse events and better support clinicians who are trying to decide whether to remove PVCs.
The investigators reported having no funding sources and no competing interests.