The Right Materials for Medical Devices
Everyone is talking about the materials used in medical devices and that’s a good thing.
The public is increasingly engaged in matters of health literacy, particularly around issues of hospital hygiene. People are coming to understand that infection rates can be reduced through equipment designed to effectively withstand rigorous cleaning protocols. No longer limited to operating rooms and board rooms, conversations about the cleanability and safety of medical equipment are happening in living rooms. Consequently, hospital purchasing decisions are being impacted by end users—patients, their families and their physicians.
Patients are making more informed healthcare decisions
Many people check complication/infection rates of healthcare professionals and facilities before scheduling procedures. They are, in effect, shopping for healthcare solutions before choosing healthcare providers. Due to the prevalence of healthcare-associated infection (HAI), the public trust has been broken between patients and care providers, who must work to win it back with proven protocols and transparent processes to ensure patient safety. Patients who share their personal stories about HAIs are raising public awareness of the issue and possible solutions.
One in 25 hospital patients is treated for a HAI, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). These instances are no longer anomalies—they have become a very real threat to all patients, especially young children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems, who are among the most vulnerable to HAIs. Other risk factors include lengthy hospital stays, the use of indwelling catheters, the overuse of antibiotics and the failure of healthcare workers to wash their hands. The CDC estimates that HAIs account for 1.7 million infections and 99,000 associated deaths each year—and that’s just in American hospitals.
Investing in equipment with cleanable surface designs is critical to rebuilding trust between patients and healthcare providers. Hospitals can no longer delay the acquisition of next-generation equipment, because patients are beginning to understand the risks associated with cracked, crazed devices and housings. It’s no longer about pushing high-performance polymers down the purchasing cycle; it’s about pulling them through with patient demand for effective infection prevention and control. This is a paradigm shift that benefits both patients and providers.
The American Journal for Infection Control cited research indicating that patients are reluctant to comment directly to medical personnel about maintaining proper hygiene. However, patients are asking more questions about hospital hygiene, how facilities are reducing infection risk and how physicians are preventing surgical site infections. They’re asking questions about the durability and efficacy of hospital equipment.
Patients have always been invested in positive outcomes, but now they’re more informed about how to achieve them. While patients may be reluctant to confront medical personnel directly, they are doing their due diligence and making decisions that directly affect the bottom lines of hospitals, surgery centers and rehab facilities. Even in a system in which insurers dictate what procedures and physicians are covered by which plans, patients still have choices.
Mindray models proactive oem behavior
Having testing information early allowed Mindray, a global developer of medical technology, to quickly move forward with disinfectant-resistant polymers. Mindray chose to incorporate medical-grade disinfectant-ready copolyesters into its current generation of patient monitors. The Passport Series of bedside monitors, T1 Monitor/Module and Accutorr Series of spot check monitors, used in healthcare facilities throughout North America, are now fully compatible with a list of more than 20 of today’s most commonly used cleaners and disinfectants due to the increased emphasis on infection prevention and control.
“Our goal was to deliver products that are stronger and more disinfectant compatible, while transitioning with minimal changes to our current molding tools, thereby reducing cut-over time and the cost of retooling,” said Rich Cipolli, Mindray’s vice president of product development for North America.
Proactively selecting the right polymer for medical devices and housings can prolong the life of devices, improve reliability and save hospitals money in the long run.
What’s the value proposition for healthcare providers?
As healthcare delivery models evolve from fee-for-service to value-based care, patient outcomes are driving payment to healthcare providers. We’re shifting the focus from volume to value of services to provide better patient care and reduce healthcare costs. Value-based care aligns the interests of patients and providers, reducing unnecessary medical costs while improving treatment quality, patient engagement and provider relationships, the “triple aim” of healthcare through value-based care initiatives.
Healthcare-associated infections are a major threat to patient safety. According to the CDC, surgical infections alone account for up to $10 billion dollars in hospital costs each year. These are often preventable with standardized cleaning and disinfection protocols. But incompatible and unapproved cleaning agents can result in premature deterioration of a device’s plastic components, causing costly equipment failure and delays in patient care. When balancing patient safety and product longevity, healthcare facilities often incur avoidable costs, including frequent repairs, unexpected maintenance, and premature replacement.
In developed countries, we see failures in housings from disinfecting, but the hidden costs are many times overlooked, because spare machines are available. However, this mindset is changing with value-based care, because providers are incentivized to ensure positive patient outcomes. In developing countries, a broken device could mean a patient doesn’t have access to care, because there is no spare equipment available.
Eastman has done extensive research to uncover failure modes of plastics in the hospital. Medical devices that are moved and/or cleaned frequently—handheld diagnostic devices, ultrasound, X-ray, MRI coils, all types of monitors, anesthesia machines, ventilators and IV pumps—can all benefit from using the right materials. In fact, disinfectant-compatible polymers are critical to the durability of these products.
Choosing better, more cleanable materials in healthcare could lead to lower cost of ownership, better outcomes and more improved access to care—things everyone in the world should value.
How do equipment manufacturers move the needle?
Historically, polymers in medical device applications have been based on polycarbonate, one of the least disinfectant-resistant materials used in healthcare. In addition to its 4-step test to evaluate the long-term resistance of polycarbonate and other plastics to hospital disinfectants, Eastman also developed a simple drop test for rigid medical housings. To this end, the company designed a two-part handheld device that could be molded in various materials, exposed to disinfectants, and dropped. The parts were designed with very low stress and rounded corners and edges. The purpose was to understand how high stress areas respond after being disinfected and dropped. Eastman shares testing protocols and real data with hopes that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) will do their own testing to validate.
Mindray did just that. (see sidebar)
Polymer selection leverages IPC and reduces costs for healthcare providers
The public can play a critical role in driving the cleanliness of healthcare facilities. Next time you have a procedure, you might ask what the cleaning protocol is for the room before they take you there. Then ask them to verify that it was followed. Take a look around you at the condition of the equipment. Just as you wouldn’t want to see peeling paint on hospital walls or rust on faucets, you don’t want to see broken or compromised medical equipment in your hospital.
As OEMs adapt to using new materials which can withstand the disinfectant protocols necessary to combat HAIs, hospitals are making better purchasing decisions. And patients are leveraging their growing awareness and understanding of healthcare hygiene to demand the highest integrity and equipment performance from healthcare providers. It’s a win-win-win.