Hospitals weigh safety, sustainability when reprocessing single-use devices

By Gayle S. Putrich
Staff Reporter

Published: May 31, 2013 2:07 pm ET
Updated: May 31, 2013 2:11 pm ET

Image By: Plastics News photo by David M. Barron/oxygengroup Janet Brown, director of content and outeach for the Healthier Hospitals Initiative

Related to this story

Topics Sustainability, Medical

WALTHAM, MASS. — Hospitals have been open about the increasing pressure to balance skyrocketing health-care costs with safety and sustainability. Recycling everything under a health-care facility's roof — from thin-film packaging to polystyrene cafeteria plates to medical devices — has become one way of saving money and showing patients hospitals are as concerned about the environment and consumption as they are about saving lives.

But industry veteran Len Czuba of Czuba Enterprises Inc., a Chicago-based product design and development firm that specializes in plastics engineering for medical devices, took a strong position against the quietly growing trend of reprocessing single-use medical devices.

"We're being asked to cut to the bone on the materials that we use, to minimize the design, to reduce the packaging, and yet every one of these things even further reduce the margin of safety of these devices," he said at the Plastics in Medical Devices conference, held May 13-15 in Waltham. "And it concerns me that [the Food and Drug Administration] or anybody is considering the reprocessing of single-use devices."

Czuba also expressed concern about cost-saving projects like the Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI) and its related membership group Practice Greenhealth. Such groups might be promoting a double standard by encouraging hospitals to phase out PVC and other materials because of the perceived dangers of chemical exposure, while at the same time encouraging hospitals to save money by striking deals for reprocessed medical devices when those items could also seriously harm patients.

The same precautionary principal is not being applied to devices as it is to chemicals, Czuba said.

Processors and OEMs should be particularly concerned, Czuba said, because their careful design and material selection is all being done with only one use in mind. "And yet they go through a cleaning step which doesn't always clean them. They go through a sterilization process, but we know that if it's not clean, you can't always guarantee sterility," he said.

"The sterilization step is a very aggressive exposure step, so manufacturers that design single-use devices very carefully select materials."

Janet Brown, director of content and outreach for HHI and a presenter and panelist at the conference, countered that there have been no clinical studies showing patients have been harmed by reprocessed medical devices and that the FDA regulates the entire process.

In a follow-up discussion after the conference, Lara Sutherland, director of business membership with Practice Greenhealth, said that while Czuba and others may have concerns about reprocessed medical devices, the reprocessing companies are just as heavily regulated by the FDA as the original manufacturers and that HHI and Practice Greenhealth support efforts to reduce waste coming out of U.S. hospitals.

"It's not something they are doing in the hospital's sterilization room," Sutherland said. "There are clean rooms and an FDA-approved process at companies that specialize in this."

She also said that part of the reason the FDA stepped in and created a regulatory avenue for reprocessing devices was that as long as 20 years ago, hospitals were attempting to reprocess devices on their own, potentially not meeting necessary cleanliness and sterilizations standards.

Striking deals with companies to remove devices that can be cleaned, sterilized and reused and bring back reprocessed devices can be a big money-saver for hospitals. HHI program participants or any hospital can select as many or as few reprocessing programs as they want, based on individual devices or even the desires of individual surgeons, Sutherland said.

At the conference, Brown stressed that medical-device manufacturers and hospitals need to work together to move toward plastics that are more easily recycled overall and fight off the perceived risk of recycling medical plastic.

"Health-care providers have to take responsibility for what we buy and what we do with it when we're done," she said. The plastics and medical-device industries can make it easier on the overwhelmed hospitals with more transparency and better labeling so administrators know what they are buying, and if and how it should be recycled.

"I still think we have a long way to go," HHI's Brown said. "What we'd rather do is prevent waste and look for opportunities to reuse rather than just send to the landfills."


Comments

Hospitals weigh safety, sustainability when reprocessing single-use devices

By Gayle S. Putrich
Staff Reporter

Published: May 31, 2013 2:07 pm ET
Updated: May 31, 2013 2:11 pm ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

Recycled HDPE prices climbing

August 22, 2014 11:26 am ET

North American selling prices for recycled grades of high density polyethylene resin have increased in recent months because of tight supplies of the ...    More

Image

Non-recyclable items gumming up the works at recycling centers

August 21, 2014 3:46 pm ET

The influx of all sorts of unacceptable items at recycling centers has gotten to the point that Charlotte, N.C.-based ReCommunity is trying to bring...    More

Image

Bayer, SCAC partner on water reuse project

August 21, 2014 12:48 pm ET

Bayer MaterialScience (BMS) and Shanghai Chlor-Alkali Chemical Co. Ltd. (SCAC) have entered into a preliminary agreement for the reuse of waste water ...    More

Image

Plastics News Now: Plastic execs take the ice bucket challenge

August 21, 2014 6:00 am ET

The North Face is using more recycled PET bottles, we check out advancements in prosthetic legs at the IDSA conference and watch those in the...    More

Image

Automakers look under the hood for the next lightweighting opportunities

August 20, 2014 1:06 pm ET

The automotive industry's current favorite target for lightweighting efforts is the powertrain, according to a recent survey.    More

Market Reports

Thermoformed Packaging 2014 Market Review & Outlook North America

This in-depth report analyzes economic and market trends, legislative/regulatory activity impacting supply and demand, business opportunities and threats, materials pricing, manufacturing technology, as well as growth strategies being implemented by thermoformed packaging companies.

Learn more

Pipe, Profile & Tubing Extrusion in North America 2014

U.S. demand for extruded plastics is expected to grow by 3 percent in 2014, with PVC remaining the largest segment.

Plastic pipe will post the strongest gains through 2018, continuing to take market share from competing materials in a range of markets.

Our latest market report provides in-depth analysis of current trends and their financial impact on the pipe, profile and tubing extrusion industry in North America.

Learn more

2014 Injection Molding Industry Report

GROWTH, OPPORTUNITY IN SIGHT FOR INJECTION MOLDERS IN 2014

In the wake of the economic turbulence earlier in this decade, molders today find themselves in much better shape. Molders are gaining a competitive advantage by investing in people, equipment and seeking inroads into new markets on a global scale.

Growth in the injection molding industry is going to be driven by low financing costs and a continued move to reshore some business.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

September 10, 2014 - September 12, 2014Plastics Caps & Closures 2014

January 14, 2015 - January 14, 2015Plastics in Automotive

February 4, 2015 - February 6, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

More Events