Tubing misconnections: normalization of deviance

Nutr Clin Pract. 2011 Jun;26(3):286-93. doi: 10.1177/0884533611406134.


Background: Accidental connection of an enteral system to an intravenous (IV) system frequently results in the death of the patient. Misconnections are commonly attributed to the presence of universal connectors found in the majority of patient care tubing systems. Universal connectors allow for tubing misconnections between physiologically incompatible systems.

Methods: The purpose of this review of case studies of tubing misconnections and of current expert recommendations for safe tubing connections was to answer the following questions: In tubing connections that have the potential for misconnections between enteral and IV tubing, what are the threats to safety? What are patient outcomes following misconnections between enteral and IV tubing? What are the current recommendations for preventing misconnections between enteral and IV tubing? Following an extensive literature search and guided by 2 models of threats and errors, the authors analyzed case studies and expert opinions to identify technical, organizational, and human errors; patient-related threats; patient outcomes; and recommendations.

Results: A total of 116 case studies were found in 34 publications. Each involved misconnections of tubes carrying feedings, intended for enteral routes, to IV lines. Overwhelmingly, the recommendations were for redesign to eliminate universal connectors and prevent misconnections. Other recommendations were made, but the analysis indicates they would not prevent all misconnections.

Conclusions: This review of the published case studies and current expert recommendations supports a redesign of connectors to ensure incompatibility between enteral and IV systems. Despite the cumulative evidence, little progress has been made to safeguard patients from tubing misconnections.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Enteral Nutrition / adverse effects*
  • Equipment Design
  • Equipment Safety
  • Humans
  • Infusions, Intravenous / adverse effects
  • Medical Errors / adverse effects*
  • Medical Errors / prevention & control*
  • Risk Management / methods