Canadian Medical Association Journal

Published by Roger Collier

July 5, 2011

The topic of reprocessing medical devices labelled as single-use items is something of an ethical quagmire. The only thing clear about this issue, it seems, is that it is complicated and encompasses many areas, including patient safety, fiscal responsibility and environmental stewardship.

“The reuse of SUIs [single-use items] is an extraordinarily complex issue,” Alice Moszczynski, a registered nurse in Terrace, British Columbia, wrote in a paper (J Med Ethics 2009;35:87-90). 

Single-use medical items, like any disposable product, are popular because they are convenient. Instead of repairing, cleaning and sterilizing a device, a health care provider could just throw it away and open a new one. Unlike paper plates, however, many disposable medical devices are expensive. A single-use ultrasound catheter, for instance, can cost as much as $5000. Furthermore, some of these devices are robust enough to be used multiple times, despite the labels on their packaging…

…“Health care can contribute to creating a livable planet by reducing the substantial amount of waste it produces,” the paper concludes. “Reprocessing is one strategy to accomplish this.”

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