Prevention of painful, traumatic Foley catheter removals and early identification of catheter mal-positioning can minimize pain, urinary tract infections, discomfort, and hematuria as well as eliminate long-term complications of urethral strictures and incomplete bladder emptying. It also allows for early removal of the Foley catheter. 
Traumatic, unintended Foley catheter extractions, whether patient-initiated or accidental, can cause permanent urologic complications, affect hospital length of stay, decrease patient satisfaction grades, increase catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTIs) and lower hospital quality scores. These injuries are usually managed with catheter replacement for 10 to 14 days (optimal) or with just observation. Rarely, they can cause severe, even life-threatening hematuria that may require pelvic arterial embolization to control.
The following guidelines will help prevent such events by early identification of patients at risk and reasonable steps that nursing services can then initiate and perform on their own without specific physician orders. Tips on early recognition of mal-positioned Foleys are included so that these painful and potentially dangerous conditions can be identified and corrected more quickly.
The use of a larger (30 mL) balloon Foley to minimize unintended self-extraction is controversial. While the 30 mL balloon is certainly much larger and therefore more resistant to being pulled out while inflated, it would do more damage to the urethra if a determined patient manages to extract it. Also, larger catheter balloons may be more stimulating and increase an at-risk patient's attempts to remove the catheter. For that reason, it is not routinely recommended. However, it may be reasonable to use a larger balloon initially for new suprapubic tubes.
Interventions to Reduce Traumatic, Inappropriate Patient Self-Extraction of Foley Catheters
Identify Patients at Risk
Every patient with a Foley catheter who has delirium or dementia is potentially at risk of a traumatic Foley catheter removal. This would include patients recovering from anesthesia, procedures or sedation and particularly if the Foley catheter is new. Patients with head injuries are at particular risk. Often these patients are in recovery room or intensive care unit (ICU) settings, but this may not always be the case. Other patients at risk include:
Be Suspicious of a Possible Malpositioned Catheter
Use Standard Preventive Measures
All patients with Foley catheters should include a properly placed Statlock or similar security device as well as additional observation by staff if patients appear confused or agitated. Do not use a Statlock on suprapubic catheters.
Reposition the Foley Catheter Under the Thigh, Tape and Cover It
In higher-risk patients, reposition the catheter by directing it under the thigh and then taping it directly to the skin without a gap. Leave no space under the tubing or the catheter for the patient to use his fingers to grab it. Being unable to encircle the catheter and tubing makes it much harder for the patient to secure purchase on the Foley and pull it out. The catheter needs to be completely secured with tape, starting almost at the level of the meatus and continuing as the catheter is secured underneath the thigh. Then wrap a large, wide elastic bandage around the patient’s thigh, completely covering the tape and Foley catheter. TED hose or similar anti-edema leg wraps may also be used to cover the Foley catheter and tubing. These measures should obscure the majority of the Foley catheter, making it even more difficult for the patient to get his fingers under and around the catheter as both the wrappings and the tape would need to be dislodged first. This delay will often give staff sufficient time to intervene. Additional tape or a plastic roll also may be used to cover the wrap if additional security measures are desired.
Use a Diaper or Mesh Underwear with Pads
When in place, these coverings make it a little harder for patients to reach their catheters as they will have to get past the diaper and padding to grasp and pull on the Foley. This is particularly helpful when used together with the decoy catheters described below.
Add Decoy Foley Catheters
Decoy catheters are a greatly underutilized resource and are particularly useful as they are not only effective but can be immediately initiated by nurses for any patient identified as being at risk without waiting for a specific physician’s order. The decoy catheter can be taped to the upper thigh or just over the diaper and secured sufficiently to prevent easy removal with simple pulling. If it comes off too easily, the patient may lose interest and go looking for the real Foley. Benzoin or similar adhesive agents can be used to help fasten the tape and decoy catheter more securely to the skin or over their pants/diaper. Multiple decoy catheters can be used if necessary to keep confused patients occupied. This has proven to be a very simple and effective technique for protecting Foley catheters from even the most persistent patients who seem determined to pull out their Foleys traumatically.
Consider Additional Preventive Measures
These include restraints, mitts, sedation, or constant monitoring with a sitter for the highest risk patients. The decision on which to use will need to be individualized on a case by case basis and is usually best determined by the primary attending physician or team. It is important to ask the physician if it appears that the patient is at risk for pulling his catheter out and other measures are insufficient. The benefits of the previously described techniques are that nursing staff can initiate them without any individual physician's order or input.
If the Foley Catheter Is Traumatically Pulled Completely Out, Check the Foley Balloon For Any Missing Pieces or Fragments
In such situations, carefully inspect the extracted Foley and make a clear note for documentation regarding whether the Foley balloon is fully intact. Physicians may want to examine the catheter, particularly the balloon, to determine if any pieces are missing that could still be in the bladder and might require surgical removal with cystoscopy. Such fragments left in the bladder can become calcified and eventually develop into stones.
By instituting these measures, unplanned traumatic Foley catheter removals can be minimized.
Using these measures, one might expect similar results to those reported at Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha (unpublished data) where the traumatic Foley catheter extraction rate decreased from 1 or even 2 per week to almost none.
Prevention of patient self-mutilation and injury by reducing the likelihood of traumatic Foley catheter extractions is beneficial to hospitals and patients by reducing hospital days and avoiding urological related complications. This has been hampered in the past by the need for specific physician orders for either a sitter, restraints or sedation. These precautions are costly, require a physician's order, use valuable resources better utilized elsewhere and may not even be very effective. Making traumatic Foley removals a nurse-initiated program greatly facilitates its implementation and effectiveness. In particular, the nurses liked using the decoy catheters and found them particularly effective, even in the most difficult cases.
The key was having a nursing risk assessment for every patient on admission or after Foley insertion to identify patients at high risk for inappropriate extractions so appropriate measures as outlined can be initiated early. Nurses and clinicians must coordinate the care of Foley's and nursing must work with the clinical staff to report risk events so that appropriate protective measure may be undertaken. More widespread use of the techniques and procedures described by an interprofessional team of physicians and nurses will greatly reduce the incidence of this troublesome problem with improved patient safety, reduced urethral trauma, increased quality, and better outcomes. It also makes a very simple and easily implemented hospital quality improvement project. [Level V]
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