Reduce Cross-Contamination Risk at Hospitals With Single-Use Plastic Devices
Plastics have historically been vital to healthcare, but environmentalists are calling for their removal. They perceive mountains of plastic waste from our hospitals. Environmentalists view single-use devices as wasteful and poor for the environment. The problem is that they are also vital. The healthcare industry does need to take a look at plastic use, but we also need to be careful that we don’t jump on an environmental bandwagon at the cost of safety for both patients and healthcare workers. Learn how single-use plastic devices reduce cross-contamination risks in hospitals.
How Plastic Has Revolutionized Healthcare
Plastic is, quite simply, the one substance that allows for single-use devices. In the past, fragile glass was used for many purposes. Most devices were sterilized and reused, but the process was never one hundred percent. Despite the waste, single-use devices literally save lives by reducing cross-contamination and healthcare-acquired infections. On top of that, plastic allows for more accurate design of medical devices, and for the creation of devices that are more comfortable and often safer for patients. For example, older speculums for pelvic exams were made of metal which, amongst other things, could be extremely cold. Newer single-use speculums are more comfortable and easier for providers to use. The same goes for other devices designed for patient comfort.
Plastics are also used to make catheters, prosthetics, hearing aids, artificial corneas, and, of course, vaccination syringes. Reusing syringes risks the provider sticking themselves and potentially becoming infected. Although reusable syringes sometimes prove to be better for vaccination campaigns, single-use ones are better in many circumstances.
As things move forward with 3D-printing, plastic creates engineered tissue and modern prosthetics for a better fit and improved use. If anything, healthcare will use more plastic, rather than less.
Modern healthcare simply could not happen without plastics. Taking them away would mean going back to the bad old days of reusing equipment, in a world where resistant bacteria are becoming more and more of a problem. The health results could easily be catastrophic.
How Single-Use Plastic Devices Reduce Cross-Contamination
Plain and simple, single-use plastic devices remove most of the opportunities for bacteria and viruses to make it from one patient to another. Any time equipment is sterilized, there is a risk that contamination will remain. In some cases, there may be issues properly sterilizing items. This stems from staff ignoring proper instructions, improper storage, or a shortage of sinks and sterilizers. Human error is the biggest cause of cross-contamination.
Plastic devices are also less likely to break if dropped than glass; broken glass vials can release a pathogen from a blood sample into a lab or patient care room very easily.
Single-use devices should never be reused. Attempting to do so increases the contamination risk as well as the risk the device will break or fail. There’s also no benefit to it in terms of cost. Instead, dispose of the devices properly. As long as the provider follows proper hygiene rules, there is no risk of passing infections along. Plus, the risk to health care providers may also be lower. Some devices are also particularly hard to clean and may break during patient treatment.
Finally, plastics easily take anti-microbial coatings, which can further reduce contamination risk. Plastics have made a huge difference in healthcare and continue to do so. With 3D printing, they are becoming even more important for both single-use and durable devices.
Can Hospitals Also Address Environmental Concerns?
This isn’t to say that we should completely ignore environmental concerns. However, it’s worth noting that sterilization and reuse also use toxic chemicals and, yes, plastics. In fact, reusable devices can contribute more to a hospital’s environmental impact, especially for clinics that don’t have on-site facilities for sterilizing and processing devices. Even with reusable equipment, plastic packaging ensures sterility. There are some things hospitals can do, of course, to reduce their environmental footprint without compromising patient care.
For example, hospitals could push towards improved availability of recycling. Considered biohazards, hospitals cannot recycle single-use devices. Thus, they may need to be kept in quarantine for a period of time first. Most contaminated waste is incinerated to prevent any onward disease transmission. Packaging, however, can be. Some hospitals have reusable containers to replace plastic packaging for reusable instruments. In the UK, about 40 hospitals are taking part in a recycling scheme for PVC. For some uses, biodegradable plastics and compostable plastics are options. These are more expensive and also carry with them the problem, currently, that bioplastic production competes with food crops. Obviously, hospitals should take into account the community health risk of plastic waste.
In other words, hospitals can work to improve their environmental footprint without getting rid of the single-use plastics that literally save lives.
Learn More About Single-Use Plastic Devices
Plastics have revolutionized healthcare, and we can’t simply stop using them. The best way to reduce cross-contamination risk at hospitals and other healthcare settings is to use single-use plastic devices. Moving forward, we absolutely should be looking at compostable plastics and recycling as options to reduce hospital waste, but we should not let the “plastic is bad” brigade compromise the future of healthcare.
At obp, we provide a number of single-use, illuminated plastic devices. Contact us to find out more and get free samples of our single-use devices so you can properly examine them before committing to a purchase.