In this month’s Popular Science there is an article entitled “The Incredible Shrinking Shot.” Since we give a fair number of shots, this article immediately caught my interest. The article says that the hypodermic needle has changed little since 1853 when it was developed by the French surgeon Charles Gabriel Pravaz.
Now, medical device designers are using micro-scale materials to make the needle shorter and thinner, which produces less painful shots. Medical designers are also using the tried-and-true method of imitating nature by following the model of the mosquito. Designers hope to design new devices that, like the pesky insect, combine a vibrating smoothed and serrated insertion tube to discreetly extract blood.
Another new development is a small patch consisting of 100 dissolvable drug-loaded polymer micro-needles, which is virtually painless. It is applied like a Band-Aid!
The problem with these ideas is that they are designed to get a small amount of a drug through the skin such as a vaccine. In my field, we may need to inject more volume than a vaccine and often the injection needs to be in deeper tissue.
Fortunately, we have methods to decrease pain. These days, we use a very small gauge needle and combine that with ethyl chloride cold spray which quickly numbs the skin while the injection is performed. The pain is minimal and over quickly, but we will certainly keep our ears to the ground to learn if there are less painful ways to deliver key medications for our patients. It would be great to have a totally pain-free shot!