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New evidence about safer central venous catheters for kids

Pediatric surgeons have been slow to adopt a technique that could keep their patients safer during a common but risky hospital procedure. But the Stanford scientist behind a new study of the procedure hopes his new research findings will provide the push they need to change their ways.

The procedure is insertion of a central venous catheter, a type of intravenous line that gives access to the largest vein in the body. It's used when the a peripheral IV (the kind that goes in the patient's hand or arm) is not appropriate - for instance, if a patient needs to receive a large volume of IV fluid, or needs a chemotherapy drug that could damage small veins. Inserting a central line requires poking a needle deep inside the body, into one of three major veins that feed to the very biggest vein, the vena cava. Once the needle is in the vein, it provides a pathway for threading in the catheter.

Since 2010, the American College of Surgeons has recommended that surgeons use ultrasound to see what they're doing during this procedure. The new study provides fresh, kid-focused evidence that this is the right thing to do, as our press release on the research explains:

“Although it’s a common procedure and is sometimes perceived as benign, it’s not,” said Sanjeev Dutta, MD, senior author of the new study. “We found that, even in the hands of experienced pediatric surgeons, the use of ultrasound can mitigate the risk of complications when placing central lines.” Dutta is a pediatric surgeon at Packard Children’s and an associate professor of surgery at the School of Medicine. The research was published online today in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

In the study, when pediatric surgeons used ultrasound, they were able to successfully guide the needle safely into a vein 65 percent of the time on the first try, and 95 percent of the time within three tries. In contrast, when they used only anatomic landmarks to guide insertion, success rates were 45 percent on the first attempt and 74 percent after three attempts. Previous research has shown that needle placement into a vein for central line insertion is associated with few complications if it succeeds on the first try, but after three attempts, the risk of complications jumps sharply. Complications of a failed insertion can include bleeding in the chest cavity, lung puncture that causes air to be trapped in the chest cavity, puncture of the carotid artery and, rarely, fatal complications such as strokes

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