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The growth of single-use items

Disposable medical supplies are the new norm within the healthcare industry. From conventional syringes and needles to surgical procedure kits and trays, everywhere you look there are single-use items. 

Wasteful? Over cautious? There are many different opinions surrounding what is necessary and what’s excessive but there is no denying how effective they are in reducing the spread of infection.

The problem

The reliance on disposable items primarily stems from the global increase in infectious diseases. Rising media awareness and the threat of lawsuits makes hospital acquired infections (HAIs) a major concern for all practitioners throughout the medical industry. With an ageing population increasing patient demand and traditional sterilisation methods at times succumbing to human error, cross-contamination unfortunately occurs far too frequently.

The stats

Studies show that Surgical Site Infections (SSI) account for 31% of all HAIs (approximately 157,000 patients), 3% of these patients die and around 75% (approximately 3,700) of these deaths are directly linked to SSI. Not only are these stats frightening, but the cost of these infections is also estimated to exceed $4 billion annually. Experts admit difficulty in linking this directly with ineffective sterilisation, however, it is thought dirty instruments make it to surgery far more than we are aware.

A grim reality

One example of this occurred in Los Angeles when a superbug outbreak killed two patients. Ironically, the device linked to the contamination was modified to improve its infection resistance. Unfortunately, it was improperly sterilised resulting in the superbug being transferred to subsequent patients.

Despite numerous changes to prevent these occurrences, HAIs continue to plague the healthcare industry. These incidents combined with an increasing pressure to reduce costs has resulted in the demand for a cost-effective alternative.

The solution

Disposable medical devices remove the opportunity for equipment to become the mode of bacteria transfer between patients and staff. Single-use devices improve surgical efficiency as they are not subject to wear and tear through repeated use or deterioration from the sterilisation process. By using disposables, the need for reprocessing is eliminated which decreases associated costs, improves daily efficiencies and allows for more patients to be seen.

Where we saw them first

From the early introduction of single-use technology such as the disposable catheter in 1944, these items have snowballed in popularity and demand. The 1960s saw the implementation of disposable IV tubing and the last twenty years have seen the progressive use of disposable surgical drapes. A more recent milestone was in 2015 when a custom disposable instrument kit was used to secure a spinal implant. The surgery was so efficient it now paves the way for increased acceptance of disposable kits within the orthopaedic and surgical medical field.

Growing pains

It has to be said that the switch to disposables has not gone without a hitch. Clinicians adopting single use will not compromise on quality and previously the concept of ‘single-use’ was considered poor quality at a high price. Today, with technological advances this perception has changed with the quality of disposable equipment often exceeding their reusable counterparts.

Improvements, developments and the future

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Unlike reusable devices that are put under continuous strain, single-use items guarantee each patient is cared for with brand new equipment. Reusables are exposed to repeated reprocessing cycles, with the harsh chemicals overtime compromising their condition. Single-use devices are designed for exceptional performance within one procedure with no compromise. The ability to focus purely on performance allows single-use technology to be finer and more effective and evolve alongside surgical advances without issue.

Infection outbreaks continue to find fault in the reusable system. The last thing anybody seeking care wants to worry about is catching someone else’s disease. With disposable technology maximising patient safety, the switch to single-use is a no brainer really!