The practice of reprocessing devices originally meant for single-use is fast growing in popularity around the world. Budget-constrained facilities are increasingly choosing to reprocess disposable devices rather than to purchase new ones. The practice of reprocessing helps save money as well as significantly reduces the volume of medical waste produced. However, there are some dangers associated with reprocessing as well. Reprocessing if not done properly can result in improper sterilization, which can cause long-term harm to the patient.
To mitigate the risks associated with reprocessing single-use devices, it is now mandatory in the US and EU to use specially trained third-party companies to clean and sterilize single-use devices. These companies adhere to proper standards and techniques to negate the risk of cross-contamination. However, reprocessing single-use medical devices is often not so strictly regulated and monitored in the developing world. India and China both report very heavy rates of disposable device reuse, but have no specially designated third-party reprocessors. All cleaning and sterilization associated with single-use devices is done in the hospital itself with no specific guidelines in place informing their technique and approach. This lack of regulation and supervision has had a negative impact on medical tourism to these countries. Some external accreditation agencies like the Joint Commission International (JCI) have therefore emerged to fill in the regulatory void in developing countries. These agencies provide the requisite training as well as extensive guidelines to responsible hospitals. These agencies have helped restore faith in in-house reprocessing in developing countries, thereby also supporting medical tourism.
Reprocessing single-use devices has been happening for a while and is here to stay. Happily, it is also now being regulated more aggressively in most countries around the world. It will definitely be interesting to see how this industry shapes up in the future around the world both in terms of the number and types of devices reprocessed as well as the evolving regulations so necessary to keeping the process safe and effective.