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Sharps-related injuries cause substantial anxiety in health care workers

Between 400,000 and 800,000 hospital workers are stuck by potentially infectious needles or other sharp instruments each year. It costs about $500 million a year to evaluate and treat these injured workers. "Sharps" injuries cause tremendous anxiety in workers because of the potential to transmit infectious agents such as hepatitis B and C virus or HIV from infected patients to workers.

The intangible psychological cost of these injuries should be incorporated into economic analyses of the benefits of sharps-injury prevention programs, concludes a study supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (National Research Service Award training grant T32 HS00020).

David N. Fisman, M.D., M.P.H., F.R.C.P., of the City of Hamilton Social and Public Health Services Department in Ontario, Canada, and his colleagues analyzed the medical and nonmedical costs of 116 employees at two hospital centers, who reported a sharps-related injury while handling a contaminated medical device in 2000 or 2001. They interviewed workers by telephone a few days (median of 3 days) after injury and asked them how much they would be willing to pay (from $10 to $5,000) out of pocket if there were a reusable device that could have prevented the injury.

The crude median amount workers would be willing to pay to avert such an injury was $850. Thus, presented with a device costing $850, half the workers would have paid for the device out of pocket if it could have prevented their injury. However, when adjusted for patient risk status (for HIV and HCV) and working with an uncooperative patient at the time of injury, the median amount increased to $1,270. Although the costs of worker distress are intangible, they may be similar in magnitude to the direct medical costs associated with the management of sharps-related injuries, conclude the researchers.

More details are in "Willingness to pay to avoid sharps-related injuries: A study in injured health care workers," by Dr. Fisman, Murray A. Mittleman, M.D., Dr.P.H., F.R.C.P., Gary S. Sorock, Ph.D., and Anthony D. Harris, M.D., M.P.H., in the American Journal of Infection Control 30, pp. 283-287, 2002.

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