A Griffith Health Institute study into the use of IV drips in intensive care units and hospital wards has the potential to save the Australian economy $1 billion each year.

Professor Claire Rickard, a researcher with Griffith University’s Research Centre for Clinical and Community Practice Innovation, is leading a major trial involving 6500 patients across five Queensland hospitals.

Preliminary clinical trials and systematic reviews by Professor Rickard’s team have demonstrated the safety of prolonged use of IV tubing.

IV tubing is used to give life-saving fluids and medicine to hospital patients via IV drips in a major vein or to monitor blood pressure in an artery.

“The current practice of routine tubing changes every three to four days is not backed by evidence and costs Australia about $1 billion annually,” Professor Rickard said.

The National Health and Medical Research Council has provided $1.56 million for Professor Rickard’s latest research project, known as the RSVP trial, which will compare four and seven day IV tubing changes.

Professor Rickard’s research is the first major trial undertaken by the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Nursing Interventions for Hospitalised Patients, since it was set up at Griffith University in late 2010.

Her team will study the infection and cost benefits of less frequent changes of IV tubing during a three-year study at the Gold Coast, Prince Charles, Princess Alexandra, Royal Brisbane and Women’s, and Royal Children’s Hospitals.

“Our previous smaller scale trial found large cost savings and no threat to patient safety when tubing was changed less often.

“In addition, nurses felt it freed up a lot of their time to spend on other patient care, and they thought it made a lot of sense not to interfere with sterile infusion tubing if they didn’t need to.

“This massive trial is the largest ever NHMRC-funded nursing project, and one of the largest new research grants awarded in Australia for 2011.”

Professor Rickard said the benefits were projected to save two million nursing hours per year. Environmental benefits are also expected from lower use of disposable medical equipment.

“The international implications for this research are evident.”

Professor Rickard’s work has already received high accolade with four of her research papers cited in the latest US government Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Guidelines for the Prevention of Intravascular Catheter-Related Infections, 2011.

“These prestigious international guidelines are used world-wide to guide practice in all aspects of infection control and prevention.”

Intravascular catheters or ‘IV drips’ are the most common invasive medical device, with approximately 15 million IV drips inserted in Australia each year.

Infections associated with IV catheters are a costly and potentially deadly outcome for patients with about 3500 such deaths occurring each year in Australia, more than the national road toll.

The investigating team includes internationally respected nursing and medical colleagues, along with microbiology scientists and health economists, providing powerful evidence of the collaborative links between Griffith University and Queensland Health working together to improve health.