Healthcare providers should look at it as a way to save money and reduce their environmental impact, says Daniel Vukelich, president of the Association of Medical Device Reprocessors.
At a time when hospitals are facing financial difficulties, Daniel Vukelich argues it makes more sense to look at reprocessing more medical devices.
Vukelich, the president of the Association of Medical Device Reprocessors, thinks there’s a sound financial argument to be made. In a new report issued Tuesday, the group estimates that reprocessed medical devices saved U.S. hospitals $372 million in 2020, even with hospitals delaying many procedures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
If all hospitals embraced reprocessing devices as much as the top 10% in the nation, U.S. hospitals would have saved $2.28 billion in the U.S. alone, the report projects.
“I think it’s a conservative estimate,” Vukelich told Chief Healthcare Executive in an interview Tuesday.
He said the estimate is conservative because the AMDR’s analysis only accounts for devices that are currently widely reprocessed. If more devices are reprocessed, hospitals could save more.
Medical devices, such as laparoscopic surgical instruments, compression sleeves and pulse oximeters, have been reprocessed for years. The devices are taken apart, cleaned up and reassembled. Federal studies have found reprocessed devices don’t pose additional health risks but have called for robust oversight from regulators to ensure safety.
More than 31.6 million reprocessed devices were sold to more than 10,000 hospitals and surgical centers worldwide in 2020, according to the AMDR, which represents companies that reprocess certain medical devices and supplies widely used in hospitals.
“The data shows we can do better,” Vukelich said.
Hospitals could see more incentives beyond saving money, although that may prove to be a prime driver, with many hospitals struggling financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Health systems should also be looking to utilizing more reprocessed devices to reduce their environmental impact, Vukelich said. Hospitals and healthcare systems are under growing pressure to reduce pollutants and waste.
“From an environmental standpoint, you’re creating less waste,” he said.
“We’re literally pumping gases into the environment in healthcare, which is also making people sicker,” Vukelich said. “We need to change our behavior.”
When asked why some health systems and hospitals have been slower to adopt the use of reprocessed items, Vukelich said, “I think it’s inertia. It’s easier to throw away and buy new.”
“Everyone in the healthcare supply chain needs to look at the decisions they make,” he said.
Hospitals don’t need to incur greater expenses when pursuing more sustainability, including the use of reprocessed devices, Vukelich said.
“A lot of people assume green initiatives cost more,” he said. “They don’t. Reprocessing costs less. You’re repurposing what you already own.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services established the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity in 2021 at the direction of President Joe Biden. Vukelich said he’d like to see the office develop financial incentives to encourage the wider use of reprocessed devices.
“It saves the hospitals money and it saves the government money,” he said.
Hospitals should also utilize more reprocessed devices as another tool in dealing with supply chain problems that have hampered the healthcare industry, Vukelich said.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals have encountered shortages of personal protective equipment, certain medications and crutches and wheelchairs. More recently, many hospitals are dealing with a severe shortage of contrast dye that is commonly used in imaging procedures.
“We’re a solution in the supply chain,” Vukelich said.
“When you reprocess what you have, you’re rebuilding resilience in supply,” he said. “Let’s maximize the lifespan of medical devices.”
Vukelich also invited the medical technology industry “to develop more products that can be reprocessed.”
“I am starting to see it,” he said. “I’d like to see a lot more.”
As medical instrumentation becomes more advanced and less invasive, Vukelich said he projects a greater market for reprocessed devices.
“Those elements underscore there will be a demand for a commercial regulated reprocessing industry,” he said. “I’m optimistic indeed.”
“There’s a need for a specialized commercial industry to take care of products that go beyond what hospitals can do to reuse them,” he said.