Patient safety is a primary concern in all healthcare settings, from pediatrician’s offices to ambulances and cancer centers. One of the major threats to patients seeking medical care is the risk of nosocomial infections, which are infections caused by treatment in a hospital or other healthcare unit. If a viral or bacterial infection is transmitted from one patient to another, the second patient may suffer serious health consequences. Many hospital patients are especially vulnerable to infection due to weakened immune systems. Infections can spread among patients through exchanging bodily fluids, coughing, sneezing, and not washing hands. In addition, medical equipment that comes in contact with viruses or bacteria can spread cross-contamination.
Hospital-associated infections are a serious problem for patients and the healthcare industry. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approximate that there are 1.7 million hospital-associated infections each year that cause nearly 100,000 deaths in the United States. However, hospital-associated infections are not a new concern. Historically, one of the main strategies to reduce the spread of infection has been to sterilize all equipment that is used for multiple patients.
Autoclaves use high heat and intense pressure to sterilize items. The autoclave has been used for over 100 years, and is generally very effective. Autoclaves are essential pieces of equipment in hospitals and many other medical settings.
Unfortunately, the autoclaving process is fallible and medical products may not, in fact, be sterile after autoclaving. Some plastics cannot be autoclaved because they would melt. In addition, while autoclave sterilization kills viruses, bacteria, and fungi, it is not effective against prions that cause diseases such as Mad Cow Disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Even when autoclave sterilization is successful, it requires staff time and effort to operate the autoclave.
Disposable medical products are a relatively new alternative for safe, sterile medical equipment. Single-use disposables are designed to be cheap and convenient, and they are only used for one patient so there is no danger of cross-contamination. One of the first items specifically manufactured as a disposable medical product was the latex medical glove, which was manufactured in 1964 by Ansell. Today, the market for disposable medical supplies has grown to include needles, syringes, surgical gowns, scalpels, masks, and more.
The United States has the largest market for disposable medical supplies, although there is also a strong demand in Europe and Asia. As the general health market continues to expand, the disposable medical supply market is also expected to continue growing. Needles and syringes are currently the most popular disposable medical supplies. Pre-filled syringes are not only sterile, they also offer convenience and they help reduce the chance for medical errors.
In addition to enhancing patient safety, disposable medical supplies have become an essential part of protecting health care providers. Health care providers are exposed to many infections every day and they must be careful to safeguard their own health. Proper protective gear is the best way for medical practitioners to stay safe. Disposable medical supplies are can help protect doctors, nurses, and EMTs. For instance, health care providers should always wear gloves and change them frequently. Disposable gloves are available in latex or non-latex and in a range of colors and sizes. Other disposable medical products that are essential for personal protection include face masks, protective eye goggles, respirators, gowns, aprons and caps.
One criticism leveled against disposable medical products is the lack of sustainability, or the damage to the environment. Compared with long-lasting, reusable medical products, hospitals that choose single-use disposables create vast amounts of waste. It can be difficult to weigh the safety advantage of disposable medical supplies against a harmful environmental effect. One option is to increase the sustainability of disposable medical supplies. Manufacturers can reduce the amount of plastic they use in many items, such as instrument trays, without interfering with the product’s function. Unnecessary packaging can also be eliminated to help reduce overall waste. Other disposable supplies, such as exam table paper and exam gowns, can be made using recycled fibers.