Recycling isn’t always good when it involves medical equipment

It’s estimated that more than 100,000 Americans have been exposed to dangerous infections such as HIV and hepatitis in the past decade. This is not through any action of their own; it is due to contaminated medical devices. Among those contaminated devices used were reused needles or vials of medicine that were dipped into more than once. These types of medical mistakes have been the cause of a number of outbreaks, including 21 cases of hepatitis C to spread in one U.S. dialysis center.

In an effort to prevent patients from suffering serious health complications due to improperly used or improperly sterilized medical equipment, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention promotes a seeming simple solution: “One needle, one syringe, only one time.” While that may bring a sense of logical peace to anyone needing medical attention, the snag comes from green health-care advocates who are concerned about reducing medical waste. A great amount of medical waste is produced in Illinois and throughout the entire country, but when reducing medical waste affects the safety of patients, other solutions for reducing waste should be considered.

About 7,000 tons of medical waste is produced daily, resulting in 2.5 million tons of medical waste per year. The green crowd certainly doesn’t advocate re-using needles or syringes. But they do support the re-use of any equipment that is able to be safely sterilized. When equipment is safely sterilized, patients are not at risk of contracting any infections or diseases from the reused equipment. However, when equipment is not sterilized correctly, patients have a higher risk of suffering injuries and health complications.

One lawsuit involving a Veterans Affairs hospital patient that contracted hepatitis following a procedure that was done with improperly cleaned equipment has led to a better solution for being green in the hospital. That solution includes the use of cheaper, easy-to-disassemble and clean devices that can be disposed of if there is any error in the process of sterilizing and reassembling. Although this may still produce a great amount of medical waste, it gives medical professionals more flexibility to discard equipment that could be dangerous to patients.

Source: The Daily Beast, “Why Green Hospital Practices Could Make You Sick,” Kent Sepkowitz, Jan. 14, 2013

  • Our firm provides counsel to those who have been harmed by medical mistakes, including infections or diseases contracted from improperly sterilized medical equipment. To learn more about our firm and practice, please visit our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys page.

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