Researchers call for more device reprocessing

U.S. hospitals need to adopt more green policies--including the reprocessing of such medical equipment as laparoscopic ports and durable cutting tools--to reduce the environmental and financial costs of waste disposal, according to a commentary written by Johns Hopkins researchers and published in the March issue of Academic Medicine.

American healthcare facilities dispose of more than 4 billion pounds of waste annually, making it second largest contributor to the landfill behind the food industry. By reprocessing--the additional processing and manufacturing of a single-use medical device so that it may be reused--hospitals can help reduce the amount of potentially harmful medical device waste at landfills while saving money.

"In 2008 alone, there was a 20% increase in hospital utilization of reprocessing services offered by one leading reprocessing service, and associated cost savings of $138,142,000 nationwide," the authors note. More than a quarter of U.S. hospitals are using reprocessing, they add.

There are safety concerns about reprocessing, such as the possible malfunction of devices, the risk of transmitting infections, and the ethical dilemma that reprocessing presents given the absence of patient consent to usage of such devices in their treatment. But the government requires all reprocessed equipment to be labeled as such, along with the name of the reprocessing company. A recent study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded reprocessed devices do not present an increased health risk over new devices, according to a Hopkins release.

"These devices are safe, but it's a public relations challenge," lead author Martin Makary says. "Some people don't like the idea that they're being treated with equipment that has been used before. But these reprocessed devices are as good as new since the testing standards for reuse are impeccable and there have been no patient safety problems in our analysis."

- see the Johns Hopkins release
- read the commentary