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“Reusable Medical Devices”:Risk for Infection

There are countless medical procedures which call for the use of “reusable medical devices,” especially in modern America where a doctor’s implements are being made smaller and more complex in order to address very specific issues. Knee arthroscopy, for example, has seen great technical advancements in recent years with the use of a small camera which photographs the knee joint from within. Such a camera ranks among reusable medical devices.

The US Food & Drug Administration defines a reusable medical device as “an instrument, apparatus, implement, machine, contrivance, implant, in vitro reagent, or other similar or related article” There are many instruments which are considered reusable medical devices, including the following:

  • Surgical forceps

  • Endoscopes

  • Stethoscopes

  • Clamps

  • Graspers

  • Scissors

  • Arthroscopic shavers

The list goes on and on. With so many of these devices, and with many of the devices having so many uses, it can be difficult for medical professionals to ensure the cleanliness of each implement. And this issue of cleanliness has led to many hospital infections.

Unclean Reusable Medical Devices Contribute to Hospital Infections

Edmond Hooker, M.D., of Xavier University is quoted with saying that hospital-borne infections are responsible for killing roughly 300 Americans every day. Much of this has to do with how reusable medical devices are being cleaned, or “reprocessed.”

There are so many kinds of miniature, uniquely complex medical devices in hospitals today that reprocessing all of them individually can seem like an impossible task. A particularly complicated device (one that has many attachments and small, almost indecipherable grooves) comes with a set of cleaning instructions for reprocessing technicians to follow. However, to follow instructions for every device can be a daunting task, to say the least. So, many reprocessing technicians cut corners when sterilizing equipment.

The outcome of not thoroughly cleaning a reusable medical device is that a residue is left behind. This residue can harbor bacteria which then comes in contact with a patient during a subsequent procedure. Such contact can put a patient at serious risk for hospital-borne infections, like staph infections and catheter infections.

The risk for infections increases depending on the class of medical device being used. There are three classes of reusable medical devices:

  • Non-critical devices. Devices which come into contact with unbroken skin. Examples of these include stethoscopes.

  • Semi-critical devices. Devices which come into contact mucus membranes. Examples of these include endoscopes.

  • Critical devices. Devices which come into contact with blood or tissue. Examples include surgical forceps.

The problem of hospital-borne infections caused by reusable medical devices is gaining more attention in recent years. As a response, organizations like the FDA are offering detailed general instructions for the reprocessing of medical devices. The instructions include:

  • Use and Contamination

  • Transporting

  • Presoaking

  • Sorting and Disassembly

  • Cleaning

  • Disinfecting / Sterilizing

  • Return to Inventory

Even with very complex reusable medical devices, the above steps should be observed. Special attention should be given to specific steps, as needed. For full explanation of cleaning procedures for reusable medical devices, go here.

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