Hospitals fail to stop IV fluids for CHF — poor quality care

ivfluidsHospitals are responsible to rescue patients from inappropriate treatment — especially when the need to intervene is obvious.   The hospital has a board of directors responsible for the care delivered in a hospital. They hire the CEO who hires a quality manager.  When bad quality management hurts or kills patients it is the hospital’s fault.

An article by Dr. Behnood Bikdeli and colleagues (JCHF. 2015;3(2):127-133) describes a huge study at 346 hospitals about treatment of patients with congestive heart failure (CHF).   Here is the essence:

  • CHF is life-threatening condition where the body collects too much fluid, usually due to a weak heart.  The fluid gets into the lungs and causes shortness of breath.
  • The treatment for CHF is to remove fluid from the body and give medications to improve heart and kidney function.
  • The absolutely wrong thing to do is to give extra fluid by the veins.
  • The study found about 12% of patients with CHF were treated with 1 to 2 liters of fluid in the veins during the first 2 days of hospitalization.  AND, most alarming, compared to similar patients not treated this way, they were more likely to end up in intensive care or die.
  • The most telling statistic is how often various hospitals let this dangerous use of intravenous fluid happen:  0% to 71%.  This means some hospitals did not let it happen (0%).  Some hospitals let it happen a lot (71%) — just hope your grandmother did not go to that hospital!

It is not rocket science to say fluid overload is not treated with extra fluid.  This is easy to detect when the admitting diagnosis is CHF and the doctor orders say “NS IV at TKO” (translation:  give salt water in the veins at a rate to make sure the veins stay open).  NO NO NO the patient does not need extra fluid.  This should not happen and there are lots of ways to prevent it or even rescue patients when Dr Welby writes such an order (or tries to use leaches).

Solutions:

  1. Mandate doctors use standard orders for treatment of CHF — there is plenty of latitude to customize such orders.  But, IV fluid is not one of the choices without stating why.
  2. Educate staff that IV fluid is not required to admit a patient (an old fashioned insurance rule).
  3. Educate staff that IV fluid is not a cure-all.  Fluid would help a dehydrated patient but not others.
  4. Nurses do a double check before admitting a patient from the ER with the question:  does this patient have CHF and an order for IV fluids — if so, call the physician to clarify the situation or to change the order — no clarity=no admit.
  5. All CHF patients should be weighed daily — if the weight is going up it means more fluid is being retained — the patient needs to be rescued.  Fix the problem or find someone who can, NOW.

Attention patient and family.  This is easy to spot.  The admitting doctor says the diagnosis is congestive heart failure but you see IV fluids being pumped into yourself or your family member.  SPEAK UP!  “Why is fluid treatment needed?”  do not accept the answer of “everybody gets an IV”.

Attention hospital board members:  do you know what your hospital is doing to prevent this obvious problem?  Quality is your responsibility, you must do something besides listen to financial statements.  Is your hospital the one with 0% or 71% record of treating CHF with IV fluids?

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