Reasons to Switch to Single-Use Medical Devices and Disposable Medical Supplies

Doctors checklist

When it comes to deciding between reusable medical devices and single-use medical devices or disposable medical supplies, healthcare professionals have to consider the pros and cons of each. For starters, medical devices also cover a wide range of categories. Whether the medical device is for single-use or a reusable item, it can be any equipment or piece of equipment, or an instrument, with medical applications, designed for and used in assessing, monitoring, diagnosing, and treating patients.

What are Single-Use Medical Devices?
Single-use devices are those devices that are used on one patient during only one procedure and then disposed of. Reusable medical devices are those that require reprocessing after a procedure, such steps as cleaning, disinfecting, and sterilization. When selecting a single-use or disposable item over a reusable medical device, and vice-versa, the number one factor to consider should be guided by any risk to patient safety. In addition to such risks as contamination and infection, environmental impact, cost-efficiency, time-savings are other factors to consider. 

What is Disposable Medical Equipment
There is no doubt that there has been a steady shift to disposable medical supplies and single-use medical devices over the years, and the trend is likely to increase. Healthcare-associated infections (HAI) are a genuine threat to patients and can be very costly to hospitals and clinics in more ways than just exposure to insurance claims. Healthcare centers are subject to penalties by having their Medicare and Medicaid payments reduced. Reusable medical devices have always carried a degree of risk for cross-contamination, surgical site infections, and HAI—far greater than a single-use device. Operations and procedures with reusable medical devices place patients at unnecessary risk. Single-use devices are sterilized, individually packaged, disposable instruments that carry none of the risks that reusable instruments do. This is the main reason the shift in using single-use medical devices and disposable medical supplies has occurred.

Weighing the Pros and Cons: Disposable Medical Supplies vs. Reusable Medical Devices
The most prominent issue with single-use medical devices and disposable supplies is the increase in biomedical waste and related environmental concerns. Disposing of biomedical waste—those supplies, materials, and devices contaminated with blood, bodily fluids, secretions, or excretions—must follow certain protocols. Biomedical waste is considered hazardous waste, and improper disposal of it may cause cross-contamination and HAI. The problem isn’t going away. Worldwide healthcare facilities—hospitals, clinics, labs, doctor’s offices—produce 4 billion pounds of biomedical waste annually.

Medical waste is a critical factor in considering using single-use medical devices over reusable medical devices. Because such devices are viewed as environmentally unfriendly, efforts are being made to provide solutions. Some companies offer bio-degradable plastic devices. A more cost-efficient solution in addressing the problem of waste is to recycle disposable instruments. Single-use disposables made with thermoplastic offers a viable, environmentally friendly solution, as they can be easily recycled.

In addition, reusable instruments have their own set of environmental issues that must be dealt with. Decontamination and sterilization require large amounts of water, detergents, chemical disinfectants, specialized cleaning equipment, steam production, and electricity to reprocess medical devices for re-use. The impact these detergents and disinfectants have on the environment poses ecological concerns and the added energy drain to clean them is costly.

Overall, there is a considerable process in reusing a medical device. It takes time, and ‘hidden’ costs associated with reusable medical devices add up. The ongoing costs for reprocessing medical devices include cleaning supplies, personnel, and personnel training, equipment, decontamination or sterilization processes, repair and replacement, tracking and accounting, and other related upkeep. Single-use devices are delivered ready for immediate use, and no time is spent in reprocessing. It’s another reason that single-use medical devices and disposable medical supplies are becoming an attractive alternative to reusable devices.

 Single-Use Medical Supplies: Safer, Time Saving and Cost-Efficient
In weighing the pros and cons of buying and using disposable medical supplies or single-use medical devices over reusable medical devices, the number one factor is protecting patients. In this regard, single-use medical devices offer more protection than reusable medical devices. Benefits of single-use medical devices—no risk of HAI from the product, immediate usage and increasing environmentally friendly solutions—are proving to be more cost-efficient, and offer time-savings that reusable devices cannot. Though there is a place for reusable devices in medical practice and healthcare, the trend in using single-use medical devices and disposable medical supplies will continue to expand as newer, efficient technological breakthroughs in manufacturing and production contribute to the production of higher quality instruments at lower costs.