Canadian Medical Association Journal

Published by Roger Collier

July 4, 2011

Do you dispose of the plastic baggie or save it for tomorrow’s ham sandwich? Do you throw away the plastic fork or wash it and stick it in the drawer with your stainless steel cutlery? With respect to cost and safety, these are minor decisions. Matters become more complicated when the disposable item is a $5000 ultrasound catheter.

Reusing medical devices labelled as single-use by manufacturers is a common practice in hospitals all over the world. Advocates of reprocessing these devices say it is safe, if done properly, and is good for both the environment and hospital budgets. But concerns about patient safety and liability for adverse events make it a practice non grata in some hospitals.

In Canada, just over a quarter of hospitals report reusing single-use medical devices. The practice is of similar popularity in the United States. When it comes to regulating the practice, however, the countries differ substantially…

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