IV drips don’t sober patients

Australian hospitals are being urged to save time and money by doing away with using intravenous (IV) fluids to try to sober up patients who are drunk.

A research project, funded by the Emergency Medicine Foundation and conducted at two Queensland public hospitals, has revealed that the standard treatment of giving drunken patients IV fluids makes no difference to how quickly they sober up.

As a result, Gold Coast Health has stopped the routine use of IV fluids to treat drunken patients at its hospitals, and emergency health specialists in Australia and overseas are reviewing their policies.

One of the project leaders Dr Siegfried Perez said the findings could allow hospitals to stop administering unnecessary treatments.

“An ED’s main aim when dealing with a patient who is simply very drunk is making them sober up, wake up and leave as soon as they are able to do safely,” Dr Perez said.

“Intravenous fluids were widely thought to reduce the blood alcohol content but our research established that they make no difference.

“Observation is still needed, of course, but it seems IV fluids do not speed up a patient’s discharge.”

The research studied the condition and treatment of 144 heavily intoxicated patients admitted to Gold Coast Hospital and Robina Hospital.

All patients were kept under observation but half received an IV saline solution and half did not.

The results showed no significant differences in the breath alcohol levels and intoxication levels of the two groups and no difference in the length of time spent in hospital.

Emergency Departments in the Gold Coast Health Service District treated more than 150,000 patients in 2015 and researchers estimated that up to $500,000 was saved by no longer treating drunken patients with unnecessary IV fluids.

Emergency Medicine Foundation Chair Associate Professor Sally McCarthy said the study was made possible through the support of the Queensland Government.

“EMF is a non-profit agency that funds innovative research with practical benefits for patients and the health system,” she said.

“We support researchers around the country who are finding better ways to treat patients and save lives in a medical emergency.”

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Newspaper article

Posted: 8 June 2016


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