A butterfly needle, also called a winged infusion set, is a device used for injecting the body via the intravenous and subcutaneous route to extract blood samples or administer IV fluids and medications. It’s known for reaching thin, hard-to-reach superficial needles with only minimal discomfort and lasting for several days on the body. This makes it one of the vital medical devices, but since the pandemic, there have been reports of its shortage.
So why is there a shortage of butterfly needles? The shortage of winged infusion sets is caused by the spike in the number of patients due to the public health crisis brought by COVID-19. This infectious disease has made many people, especially the children, elderly, and those with comorbidities, experience mild to severe symptoms, needing butterfly needles for IV fluids and medication administration. There is also a prevalence in chronic diseases.
Butterfly needles, also called winged infusion sets or scalp vein sets, are medical devices with tiny needles and two plastic flaps on either side, giving them a winged appearance. It’s used for venipuncture procedures on barely-visible and superficial veins, like veins of younger and elderly patients. Healthcare providers use this for doing a blood draw or administering an IV fluid and medication.
But there have been reported shortages of these butterfly needle sets, including blood specimen collection tubes, syringes, and other medical supplies. This supply disruption is caused by the spike in demand for these items due to the increase in patients amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 has caused many patients to need winged infusion sets for their IV catheters, used for fluid and medication infusion. Many people had been at risk of developing severe symptoms that would need hospitalization and intensive medical attention. Children, the elderly, and those with comorbidities have high risks of developing severe effects from the virus.
More than this, there has also been an increase in patients with chronic diseases, needing long-term treatments to manage their condition. The COVID-19 pandemic is also one of the factors of many patients having declining health.
Aside from butterfly needles, many medical supplies, like needles, syringes, and blood collection tubes, are becoming scarce due to the widespread COVID-19 vaccination and outbreak control campaigns. Billions of these are used more than usual for vaccine rollouts.
The World Health Organization announced in 2021 that there could be at least more than a billion shortage of blood specimen collection tubes, syringes, and needles, like butterfly needles. The World Health Organization Senior Advisor Lisa Hedman mentioned, “A shortage of syringes is, unfortunately, a real possibility, and here are some more numbers: That the global manufacturing capacity of around 6 billion a year for immunization syringes, it’s pretty clear that a deficit in 2022 of over a billion could happen if we continue with business as usual.”
The shortage can halt many operations in the healthcare industry. Because of this, suppliers were called to ramp up their production. Today, suppliers have yet to catch up because the Food and Drug Administration or FDA has announced shortages of many medical supplies, calling on healthcare providers to limit the usage of these items and dedicate them only during needed situations. The supplies experiencing supply disruption include the butterfly needles.
The FDA has published a list affected by shortages brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and disease control campaigns. Many basic medical supplies, from ventilators and sodium citrate tubes to gloves and other blood sample tubes.
The FDA publishes recommendations for healthcare providers to navigate the shortage of butterfly needles and still provide patients utmost medical service amid the crisis. Some ways for managing this medical crisis are to limit its usage to emergencies. Many are called to use the usual straight needles for most patients or seek a private supplier with an ample inventory to accommodate their needs.
Because of their tiny needle size, butterfly needles are preferred for younger and elderly patients. Its size can reach and puncture a superficial vein, even causing minimal pain.
To navigate through the shortage, most medical institutions and practices limit the use of butterfly needles only to difficult venipunctures and blood plasma. So it will only be used on patients with small veins that are difficult to access. Many practices also use one venipuncture for drawing 4 blood cultures bottles instead of 2.
Many patients request butterfly needles even when they don’t need one because they only leave minimal pain, making phlebotomy more tolerable and less intimidating. But due to the shortage, many practices encourage using other more suitable needles. Patients squeamish about taking injections are reassured and offered other alternatives to reduce discomfort.
Healthcare providers encourage using straight needles for basic venipuncture and other suitable procedures instead of butterfly needles. These devices are more cost-effective because they can take multiple blood samples in a single shot with minimal risks and lower costs.
More than this, there are instances when straight needles are more suitable for a procedure than butterfly needles and vice versa. Healthcare institutions encourage practices to adhere to this and avoid wastage.
You might want to seek a reliable private supplier of medical and beauty items if you need a more sufficient stock of butterfly needles. Some suppliers may be low on winged infusion sets, but you might find others with more items in their inventory. You might want to prepare for extra costs, though.
Butterfly needles are commonly used in phlebotomy for accessing small and hard-to-locate veins, specifically those on children and elderly patients. Currently, we see a shortage of these medical devices due to the increase in patients due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the prevalence of chronic diseases. So practices are called by the FDA to limit their usage and implement other safe alternatives.
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