Debate over reuse of single-use medical devices rages on

GlobalData Healthcare 9 December 2019 (Last Updated December 12th, 2019 11:12)

In many countries around the world, medical centres are combining the lower per-unit prices of single-use devices with the reduced costs associated with device reuse by reusing single-use devices.

Debate over reuse of single-use medical devices rages on

The development and implementation of single-use, or disposable, medical devices is becoming more widespread. GlobalData has identified that disposable devices are being increasingly used at the expense of reusable counterparts across most markets and therapy areas. 

One of the major reasons for this shift has been to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and to reduce the logistics required to sterilise reusable equipment. However, not everyone is embracing this shift toward single-use products, for reasons including environmental concerns, specifically the minimisation of waste production, and the generally cheaper costs associated with reusable devices. 

In many countries around the world, medical centres are combining the lower per-unit prices of single-use devices with the reduced costs associated with device reuse by reusing single-use devices. A recent study published in BMC Public Health by Wang and Wu found that in China, the reprocessing and reuse of single-use medical devices in hospitals is extensive despite the practice being banned in the country. 

The study authors conducted a cross-sectional analysis based on the results of a national survey conducted in 2015. Before this study, the practice of reprocessing and reusing single-use devices was not well understood. The study involved reviewing responses from 540 participants across the country in different fields of practice. The results of the study revealed positive attitudes towards the reprocessing and reuse of single-use devices by Chinese healthcare professionals. 

Surprisingly, despite such positive attitudes toward this practice, many participants doubted the hygienic and functional safety of reprocessed single-use devices. Furthermore, these respondents indicated that more training should be implemented towards reprocessing and reusing single-use devices. 

This practice is not isolated to countries such as China. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that in the US, the reuse rate of single-use devices could occur in 20–30% of hospitals for at least one type of single-use device. The FDA has even created regulations for the reuse of single-use devices. This includes regulatory requirements that medical centres must follow, such as the stipulation that the reused device must comply with the same regulatory requirements of the device in its originally manufactured form. If medical centres do not follow these FDA guidelines, they are required to stop reprocessing single-use devices. 

While the choice to reprocess and reuse single-use devices might be a pragmatic decision in emerging economies or medical centres that have restrictive budgets, the lack of research conducted into the safety of this practice will prevent policymakers from officially promoting this practice. Future studies will be required to clearly define the risks and benefits associated with reusing single-use devices.