Everything You Need to Know About Supplies and Disposables
In order for physicians to provide the highest quality healthcare, they need some essential medical equipment that allows them to perform simple and complex procedures.
This equipment can be used in a clinical setting, as well as the operating room where surgeons need numerous surgical instruments to treat the underlying condition.
The process of supplying hospitals and healthcare facilities with this equipment is quite complex and involves a long chain of manufacturers and traders.
However, not all equipment is created equal.
Some of these devices are reusable, which means physicians can use them to diagnose and/or treat several patients.
On the other hand, we have disposable medical equipment, which can only be used once.
In this article, we will discuss the medical supply business and the types of disposable devices in the field of healthcare.
What is the medical supply business?
Like all other business models, the medical supply industry follows the classic diagram of supply and demand.
Factories produce all different kinds of medical equipment that need to get transported to healthcare facilities.
This business model has four major players:
- The manufacturer
- The supplier
- The hospital
- Insurance companies
Each of these contributors plays a role to ensure that the medical equipment reaches its final destination.
The manufacturer’s rate of production is often controlled by hospitals’ demands. For instance, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for artificial respirators and intubation kits skyrocketed.
In fact, the demand was extremely high that the medical supply industry could not keep up with the crazy numbers. Some countries even went as far as turning non-medical equipment factories into producing respirators.
Outside of all crises, the need for medical equipment is relatively steady, but most countries deal with a shortage of devices to some degree.
Note that this shortage is due to financial issues rather than the inability of factories and suppliers to provide the equipment.
What are the medical equipment disposables?
A disposable device is any medical apparatus that was designed for one-time use. Supplies with temporary use also fall into the disposable equipment definition.
The main goal behind disposable devices is the prevention of nosocomial infections since items are got rid of once the physician examines/treats the patient.
The economy of disposable devices is quite complex and involves the achievement of a balance between performance, reliability, the material used, shelf-life, and cost.
Physicians are advised to avoid wasting disposable equipment so that the hospital does not face an economic crisis. This point is especially prevalent in privately funded hospitals where investors may not be able to support the hospital any further.
The most commonly used material to produce disposable devices is plastic due to its relatively affordable prices and diversity of choices to make multiple devices.
Note that some devices require more solid material such as syringes, which get produced using polycarbonates.
This equipment can also be reassembled, using one of the following techniques:
- Radio-frequency welding
- Ultrasonic welding
The process of disposable-device assembly is becoming more and more automated because of the incredibly high production volume.
Another important point about disposable devices is sterilization.
While most reusable equipment needs on-site sterilization before any medical/surgical procedure, disposable devices are sterilized before leaving the factory.
Therefore, the packaging is specifically designed to accommodate the sterilized material.
The U.S has standardized the reprocessing of “unique use” medical devices in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. This step significantly reduced cost and medical waste.
However, the regulations of the reprocessing are quite strict and must meet FDA criteria before getting used again.
History of medical equipment disposables
In the 19th and 20th centuries, hospital equipment was mostly comprised of reusable devices that got sterilized inside the facility.
Disposable equipment was seen as costly, prestigious, and inconvenient to implement and reproduce. However, after the “plastic revolution”, disposable devices largely replaced reusables because of economic and preventive measures.
This trend continued to grow and is growing today. However, many organizations and individuals are suspicious of the environmental consequences of using disposable devices because of the plastic material.
Today, disposable medical equipment is at an all-time peak, and it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, anytime soon.
The benefits of disposable medical equipment
While using disposable equipment might seem costly on the surface, it is quite the opposite. You see, these devices are massively produced, which significantly reduces their cost.
Additionally, cross-contamination from nosocomial infections is extremely expensive, with hospitals spending millions of dollars every year to manage these conditions.
Most of the plastic material used to produce disposable medical equipment is quite cheap and can be mass-produced to meet the growing demand.
The main benefit of using disposable devices is the significant decrease in contamination risk since every item is uniquely used on a single patient.
On the other hand, reusable devices carry a higher risk of cross-contamination because of improper sterilization.
For this reason, physicians would often use disposable devices on cases that require absolute sterilization, such as surgery and central catheterization.
An example of another category of devices that carry a risk of contamination is the intubation kit, which involves the use of laryngoscopes and endotracheal tubes. As you may deduce, using disposables for this procedure is simply impractical.
In addition to safety, disposable devices surpass their reusable counterparts by reducing preparation and procedure duration.
In one study, scientists compared conventional gastroendocopes (GE) with a novel disposable GE.
They reported that the disposable GE was superior to the conventional version of GE due to the higher efficiency in clinical practice and the shorter turn-around time.
Moreover, the performance between the two devices was identical in terms of visibility, diagnostic features, and patient's comfort.
Unfortunately, there is one downside to using disposable medical equipment, which is the environmental hazards that result from its waste by-products.
Healthcare officials are working to improve this point by changing some plastic types and opting for bulk orders from local factories.
Examples of disposable medical equipment
Physicians use all types of medical equipment disposables, including:
- Hypodermic needles – these are special needles, which get typically used with syringes to inject medications under the skin.
- Applicators – long sticks used to take saliva samples from patients.
- Bandages – adhesive bandages made of plastic material (e.g. PVC, polyethylene, polyurethane).
Other disposable devices:
- Face masks
- Examination gowns
- Suction catheters
- Surgical sponges
This list is by no means comprehensive, but it should give you an idea about the diversity and necessity of disposable equipment.
Supplying healthcare facilities with the necessary equipment (e.g. reusables, disposables) is a crucial step to guarantee the normal functioning of hospitals and the quality of healthcare patients receive.
Disposable devices are economically efficient and their use is primordial to prevent nosocomial infections, which are very costly.
Additionally, the convenience of using these devices without the need for any sterilization of preparation prior to procedures made them gain popularity among physicians and surgeons.
Hopefully, you have a better idea about the role of every contributor in the chain of medical equipment production.