Defining difficult intravenous access (DIVA): A systematic review

J Vasc Access. 2021 Nov 17:11297298211059648. doi: 10.1177/11297298211059648. Online ahead of print.


Background: The term "difficult intravenous access" (DIVA) is commonly used but not clearly defined. Repeated attempts at peripheral intravenous catheter (PIVC) insertion can be a traumatic experience for patients, leading to sub-optimal clinical and economic outcomes. We conducted a systematic literature review (SLR) to collate literature definitions of DIVA, with the aim of arriving at an evidence-driven definition.

Methods: The SLR was designed to identify clinical, cost, and quality of life publications in patients requiring the insertion of a PIVC in any setting, including studies on US-guidance and/or guidewire, and studies with no specific intervention. The search was restricted to English language studies published between 1st January 2010 and 30th July 2020, and the Ovid platform was used to search several electronic databases, in addition to hand searching of clinical trial registries.

Results: About 121 studies were included in the SLR, of which 64 reported on the objectives relevant to this manuscript. Prevalence estimates varied widely from 6% to 87.7% across 19 publications, reflecting differences in definitions used. Of 43 publications which provided a definition of DIVA, six key themes emerged. Of these, themes 1-3 (failed attempts at PIV access using traditional technique; based on physical examination findings for example no visible or palpable veins; and personal history of DIVA) were covered by all but one publication. Following a failed insertion attempt, the most common number of subsequent attempts was 3, and it was frequently reported that a more experienced clinician would attempt to gain access after multiple failed attempts.

Conclusions: Considering the themes identified, an evidence-driven definition of DIVA is proposed: "when a clinician has two or more failed attempts at PIV access using traditional techniques, physical examination findings are suggestive of DIVA (e.g. no visible or palpable veins) or the patient has a stated or documented history of DIVA."

Keywords: DIVA; DVA; difficult venous access; hard stick; venous access.