Green Surgery: Can Reprocessing Prove as Effective as Single-Use?

With the push toward sustainability causing unprecedented changes in industries the world over, it should not come as a surprise that the medical world considers itself to be no exception. While the past twelve months have made a rapid reform to greener practices impossible for all areas of the health sector, the promise of a more familiar world returning offer the space for hospitals to pursue sustainability with greater commitment.

Of course, balancing two of the most pressing topics of our age – sustainability and human health – does not come without its fair share of trials. From supply chains to the day to day workings of hospitals and other care facilities, the entire sector is built upon prioritising efficiency, expediency, economy and, of course, the health and safety of patients and professionals alike.

A great deal of the time, this entails single-use equipment dominating all areas of care provision – particularly the operating room, where surgical procedures demand the most rigorous measures in terms of sterility and practicality.

Pulled in Multiple Directions

In many areas of life, the move toward more sustainable measures and practices is one that must balance itself against cost; we cannot, in our everyday lives, be expected to invest into ways that prove financially untenable, whether that is for the individual or the corporation. After all, a significant contributing factor to our ongoing struggles is cost, with around 25% of Britons stating that green shopping is too expensive.

The story is no different for the world of medicine, although the demands of economy are not all that hospitals need to meet with in order to create a new, greener standard for operating rooms. The question of patient safety – and, of course, the safety of OR personnel – cannot be reduced below the level of importance ascribed to sustainability. In essence, instances where single-use PPE or surgical equipment is currently being utilised are far more complex than instances in daily life where, say, single-use plastic bags or drink containers can be more safely exchanged for reusable options.

There are, of course, countless examples of this demand across the world of surgery. For instance, the use of single-use surgical retractors during a wide range of surgical procedures has proven itself to be an indispensable practice for ORs across the world, particularly with the relatively recent introduction of the self-retaining retractor – a device which utilises medical grade plastic to offer a much more versatile and malleable solution for accessing incision sites during an operation. Without this device, the OR would require higher volumes of personnel, and surgeons would face difficulties that have, with devices like these, been left to the pages of history.

Knowing What to Reprocess

Hospitals have to save money wherever it is possible to do so, without compromising the health and wellbeing of their staff or patients. Every instrument and piece of equipment utilised within a hospital setting must, then, be subject to rigorous scrutiny to ensure that it is in the best interests of the hospital to reprocess existing items, rather than focus on acquiring single-use alternatives.

The costs of reprocessing vs single-use vary considerably, with the difference occasionally amounting to hundreds of dollars. An effective system of sterilisation and reuse will be one that focuses efforts on those devices which lend themselves to reprocessing, rather than imposing a new general standard on all pieces of surgical equipment.