Why are Surgeons Shunning Safety Scalpels?

July 7, 2017

By: Adeline Yi, AnzenTM Product Manager

It’s been 17 years since the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act required hospitals to adopt new safety technologies, and most hospital departments have embraced these measures—except for operating rooms.

ORs face even greater risks than other departments, with the potential for scalpels to cause deeper and more serious wounds. Yet nationwide, the conversion to safety scalpels has been painfully slow1. What’s the holdup?

Simply put, surgeons don’t like them. In a study of 186 OR clinicians conducted jointly by Outpatient Surgery Magazine and the International Sharps Injury Prevention Society (ISIPS) in 2011, up to 60% of respondents reported that safety scalpels were not being used in their facility1. Similar results were reported in a 2016 survey by MediPurpose at the American College of Surgeons’ (ACS) Clinical Congress: 65% of respondents said their facilities did not use safety scalpels, primarily because they had not found an acceptable model.

Surgeons cite unmet needs

Surgeons complained that the safety scalpels they’d tried came up short on usability and comfort. Specifically, survey respondents cited these objections1:

  • They didn’t like the general feel of the safety scalpel (84%)
  • They had specific complaints about its weight, balance, or line of sight (52%)
  • They had difficulty with safety sheath (25%)
  • The activation method was cumbersome (35%)

65% of survey respondents reported that their facility had not found an acceptable brand/model of safety scalpel.


What are surgeons’ unmet needs?

In the ISIPS survey, surgeons described their ideal safety scalpel—one with the tactile and operational qualities they would need to feel confident using it:

  • The same weight, balance, and sharpness as a traditional non-safety scalpel
  • A shield that does not obstruct line of sight
  • An easy-to-operate blade that can be exposed or concealed without looking at the scalpel
  • A safety mechanism that can be operated single-handedly—with either hand

The challenge is clear: To speed the adoption of safety scalpels, new models must do a better job of meeting surgeons’ needs.

1 Stoker, R. Are Safety Scalpels Making the Cut with Surgeons and Nurses. Outpatient Surgery; 2011.