When Reprocessing Fails
Why should practices and medical facilities switch to a single-use disposable vaginal speculum system? There is a lot of talk about cross-contamination control, but it is the horror stories that really show the benefits.
Parkland Memorial Hospital, located in Dallas, Texas, is one of the major teaching hospitals associated with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. It offers one of three Level 1 Trauma Centers in the area and is home to the Parkland Burn Center. Parkland also has one of the nation’s busiest labor and delivery departments.
Over the last few years, Parkland has had a number of contamination issues, related specifically to it obstetrics and gynecology department. This series of events offers a practical view of why single-use disposable instruments, such as vaginal speculum, not only improve quality of care, but also reduce cost.
On March 13, 2010, Parkland sent out letters to women seen in their obstetrical and gynecological department regarding their potential exposure to an improperly sterilized vaginal speculum. They asked these patients to return to the hospital for testing and evaluation.
Within two days, a second letter went out. This one alerted patients that they may have also been exposed to an infectious agent that put their sexual partners at risk. They urged the women to abstain from unprotected sex for at least six months, even if they tested negative.
Soon after, a third letter went out to different women regarding possible exposure to dirty instruments. This time, the problem was in the labor and delivery department, and the risk was to both mothers and babies.
The Effect of the Infection-Control Problems at Parkland
A total of 73 women were notified as part of the infection-control breakdown at Parkland hospital. Most returned for preventative care with positive outcomes. Fewer sexual partners came in for testing. All patients were treated free of charge.
During their investigation of the incidents, Parkland found the first one involved tainted speculums, the instruments were picked up and reused without proper cleaning. The second event was due to equipment failure, resulting in some patients possibly being exposed to HIV or hepatitis.
It is one thing to see statistics and probability data, but with Parkland, the first problem could have been easily avoided had the facility used single-use disposable vaginal speculums instead of relying on sterile reprocessing. Single-use products, such as the disposable vaginal speculum, pay for themselves.