Olean General Hospital announced Thursday it mailed letters to 1,915 patients after an internal review raised the possibility that some of them may have received an injection from another patient’s insulin pen.
The issue follows recent news that 716 patients at the Buffalo Veterans Affairs Medical Center may have been exposed to HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C because of the inadvertent reuse of insulin pens that were intended to be used only once.
Representatives of some of Buffalo’s largest hospitals said Thursday they have not encountered a similar issue with insulin pens.
Olean General has not identified any patients who received an insulin injection from another patient’s insulin pen during the period November 2009 to Jan. 16 of this year. Nor is there any indication yet that a patient was exposed to possible infection from such blood-borne diseases as HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C, officials said.
The notice to the patients recommends that they seek testing for HIV three months after their last insulin pen injection at Olean General and for hepatitis B and hepatitis C six months after their last insulin pen injection at the hospital.
Olean General also established a call center – 375-7590 or (888) 980-1220 – staffed from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week to answer patient questions, and the hospital is offering free testing and counseling.
“Recent news stories brought to light problems with the inappropriate reuse of insulin pens at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Buffalo,” said Timothy J. Finan, president and chief executive officer of Upper Allegheny Health System, which includes Olean General.
“This situation prompted Olean General Hospital to initiate its own review and audit of the use of insulin pens at the hospital,” he said. “Interviews with nursing staff indicated that the practice of using one patient’s insulin pen for other patients may have occurred on some patients.”
Reusable insulin pens have never been used at Bradford Regional Medical Center, also a member of Upper Allegheny Health System, and have been removed from Olean General, officials said.
Recently, the inspector general at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs initiated a review of practices at the Buffalo VA Medical Center. Because the hospital was not labeling the insulin pens for use by individual patients, people could have been infected between Oct. 19, 2010, and Nov. 1 of last year, the hospital said.
The faulty practice started despite a 2009 Food and Drug Administration warning against reusing insulin pens, and it continued despite a similar January 2012 alert from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – warnings that hospital officials said they had not seen.
Finan said the practice at Olean General was to label insulin pens for each patient. In addition, he said the pens employ a safety needle that can’t be reused. However, he said interviews with nurses during the hospital’s review indicated that the pens may have been reused with new needles despite the labeling, and that posed a potential problem. “Insulin pens are not designed, and are not safe, for one pen to be used for more than one patient, even if needles are changed between patients, because any blood contamination of the pen reservoir could result in transmission of already existing blood-borne pathogens from the previous user,” the FDA said in its March 2009 alert to health care professionals.
“What we heard from the nurses was very nebulous, and the risk of infection is very low. But we felt we had to be proactive,” Finan said.
A Kaleida Health official said insulin pens are not an issue in the hospital system, which includes Buffalo General, Millard Fillmore Suburban and DeGraff Memorial hospitals.
Buffalo General Medical Center, for example, purchased only 30 insulin pens over the last six months, said spokesman Michael Hughes.
“All of our insulin products are dispensed per patient and are labeled with the patient name and room,” he said.
The Catholic Health hospital system, which includes Mercy and Sisters hospitals, said some types of insulin are dispensed to patients using injectable pens with a sterile needle at the tip, and the pens are labeled for each patient. The practice is to dispose of the needle at the end of the pen and replace it after each use, according to Dr. Brian D’Arcy, president of medical affairs.
He described the hospital system’s practice as follows: The pens are stored in the patient’s medication bin, separate from other insulin.