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  1. Lyons, Margaret G. DNP, RN, CRNI(R)
  2. Phalen, Ann G. PhD, CRNP, NNP-BC


Introduction/Significance/Population: Research has failed to demonstrate an optimal flushing solution or frequency for central catheters. In a 2002 study of 50 000 home care patients, catheter dysfunction with loss of patency was the most common complication and occurred in 29% of the peripherally inserted central catheters (PICCs) tracked. With the advent of the Affordable Care Act and the promise of expanded home care services, this study offers evidence as to a preferred flushing protocol to prevent catheter patency complications for home infusion patients with PICCs.


Methods: This prospective, randomized, 1-way, single-blinded posttest with control group study was performed to compare 3 commonly used flushing protocols in home infusion patients with PICCs. The independent variable was the flushing protocol, and dependent variables included the development of patency-related complications and other significant issues such as sluggishness, occlusion, missed medication doses, catheter replacement, additional nursing visits, and the use of alteplase (Cathflo Activase).


Data Analysis/Results: Each of the study groups had patients who experienced 1 or more patency-related complications. Additional factors that may affect catheter function, including patient age, gender, diagnosis, therapy type, frequency of catheter use, catheter brand/size/number of lumens, concomitant use of anticoagulant medications, and whether PICCs were used for routine lab testing, were analyzed, and no statistical significance was determined. Catheter dwell time (catheter days) was statistically significant (p = .003, confidence interval = 95%; assuming equal variance) and confirmed the assumption that the longer a home care patient's catheter was in place, the more complications occurred. There were no cases of heparin allergy, heparin-induced thrombocytopenia, or line infection.


Discussion/Conclusion/Recommendations for Practice: The data provide some evidence to support the elimination of heparin flushing in home care patients with PICCs, although data in the saline-only group that related to additional registered nurse visits to assess PICC patency and the use of alteplase (Cathflo Activase) were trending toward significance because this group experienced a higher incidence of these complications than both the heparin groups. These findings should not be translated to home care patients with cancer or pregnancy diagnoses because these populations were excluded from this study. More studies of this topic area should be initiated. Please see video abstract, Supplemental Digital Content 1, for more information (