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Changing peripheral venous catheters ('cannulae') according to clinical need is just as safe as doing it routinely every three to four days. Bloodstream infections from either approach were rare, less than about one per 1000 insertions. This Cochrane review found that if the catheter is functioning and there are no signs of inflammation around the point of insertion then replacement is not necessary. This practice is likely to be less painful for patients and cheaper.

This updated review looked for new high quality studies addressing this question and confirmed that catheter replacement by need is a better approach, on the balance of similar safety at reduced costs. A clinical need-based replacement schedule would rely on inspecting the point where the catheter enters the patient’s skin at least once per shift, as recommended in 2014 UK guidance.

Further dissemination of the review’s findings among health care professional networks may provide the reassurance needed for changing practice away from more cautious routine replacement.

Why was this study needed?

Peripheral venous catheters – also known as intravenous drips or intravenous cannulae – are commonly used in hospital treatment to administer fluids or medication. In light of risks from ongoing placement, such as introducing infection to the bloodstream or irritating the vein, previous guideline recommendations were cautious, in favour of scheduled catheter replacement.

A Cochrane review in 2013 found no evidence that this was safer than changing according to clinical need, but practitioners have been reluctant to abandon the cautious, scheduled approach of former recommendations and these authors looked for any new research on the topic.

Repeatedly placing a tube into a vein is a painful process and changing the catheter according to a time schedule is potentially costly, due to the large number of patients and qualified health professionals involved. Confirming the evidence may provide the reassurance required to change practice.

What did this study do?

This Cochrane review updated the 2013 version by checking for relevant new trials published by March 2015. It included seven randomised controlled trials, covering 4,895 participants. Relevant trials compared routine removal of peripheral venous catheters with replacement when needed, for people receiving continuous or intermittent infusions for at least three days.

The main outcomes were catheter-related bloodstream infection, and inflammation of veins around the catheter. Secondary outcomes included catheter-related problems such as blockages, and costs of the procedures.

Cochrane reviews are carried out to a high standard. The overall quality of the evidence was rated as being high for most of the outcomes, except for catheter related blood stream infection, for which the evidence was moderate.

What did it find?

  • No new trials were added to the review since the previous Cochrane review in 2013.
  • From five trials, there was no significant difference in frequency of catheter-related bloodstream infection between the groups where replacement was by clinical need 1/2,365 and the routine replacement after 72-96 hours group, 2/2,441 (risk ratio [RR] 0.61, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.08 to 4.68). The confidence interval was very wide reflecting the small number of adverse events.
  • There was no difference in rates of vein inflammation between the two approaches (replacement by clinical need 186/2,365; changing after 72 hours, 166/2,441; RR 1.14, 95% CI 0.93 to 1.39).
  • From three trials in Australia, overall procedural costs were lower by approximately $AUS 7 (equivalent to £3.40 at January 2016 exchange rates) for catheter replacement by clinical need, compared with changing after 72-96 hours (mean difference -6.96, 95% CI -9.05 to -4.86).
  • There was no significant difference in frequency of catheter related problems (such as blockages) between the two approaches.

What does current guidance say on this issue?

UK guidance from 2014 recommends that peripheral vascular catheters should be re-sited when clinically indicated and not routinely, unless device specific recommendations from the manufacturer state otherwise. Peripheral vascular catheter insertion sites should be inspected at least each shift, as a minimum.

Updated guidance from the Royal College of Nursing on Intravenous therapy is expected in 2016.

What are the implications?

UK guidance published in 2014 is supported by evidence in the previous (2013) and current (2015) versions of this Cochrane review. However, practitioners report that cultural barriers still exist against changing to this practice.

Health care professional organisations may wish to promote the message that it is safe to adopt catheter change based on clinical need, for example using blogs such as Evidently Cochrane or professional TweetChats.

Further UK research on cost saving implications of the change in practice in the UK may also help practitioners change to clinical-need based catheter replacement.



Webster J, Osborne S, Rickard CM, et al. Clinically-indicated replacement versus routine replacement of peripheral venous catheters. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;(8):CD007798.



Chapman, S. Getting evidence into nursing practice: replacing the routine. In: Evidently Cochrane [blog]. Cochrane Library; 21 November 2015.

Loveday H, Wilson J, Pratt R, et al. epic3: national evidence-based guidelines for preventing healthcare-associated infections in NHS hospitals in England. Journal of Hospital Infection. 2014;86:S1-S70.

NICE. Intravenous fluid therapy in adults in hospital. CG174. London: National Institute for Health and Care Excellence; 2013.

RCN. Infusion therapy. London: Royal College of Nursing; 2008. Update due for publication in 2016.

Produced by the University of Southampton and Bazian on behalf of NIHR through the NIHR Dissemination Centre


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