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Enhancing Your Infection Prevention Strategy: The Role of Single-Use Devices

By Erin Broeske

One in 25 patients are diagnosed with a hospital-acquired infection (HAI) every day[i]. One quarter of HAIs are device-associated infections1. While all devices can serve as a potential vector for pathogens, reusable devices that have direct contact with a patient’s skin can pose a particularly high risk.

The good news is, there are effective solutions to minimize your risk of device-associated infections. Recent studies and reports demonstrate that using single-use devices (SUDs) can help reduce infection rates in hospitals.

Reusable devices and HAI risk

Studies have shown non-critical medical devices, like ECG lead sets, often become contaminated with pathogens including bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms that can cause disease. In fact, one study cultured 100 randomly selected reusable ECG telemetry leads to determine if residual bacteria remained once the in-house cleaning process was complete. The study found that 77 percent of the sampled leads were still contaminated with one or more antibiotic-resistant nosocomial pathogens after they had been cleaned[ii].

Reusable devices often do not go through a sterile processing department and are cleaned in the patient’s room after use. This presents a number of uncontrollable variables. It is difficult to establish a consistent process for cleaning in a hospital setting because there are several different staff members carrying out the processes. In-house cleaning practices for reusable devices lack specialization and control – the same person who is wiping down bed rails and mopping the floors may also be responsible for cleaning devices.

When reusable devices attach near an open wound or incision, patients become particularly susceptible to contracting an HAI, as it gives pathogens easy access to the bloodstream. Reducing “shared” equipment, minimizes the chances that equipment can serve as a vector for infection. By switching to SUDs, health care providers can be confident the device is clean and ready for patient use.

Health systems that make the switch to SUDs have the option to discard the device after use or reprocess the device with a third party – helping them achieve financial and environmental goals, without sacrificing quality of care. Let’s dive deeper into how SUDs can be game changers when your program adds them to your infection prevention bundle.

Quality care:

Replacing reusable devices with SUDs – both new and reprocessed – ensures the device will be sterile and function properly every time. Health systems that choose to reprocess their SUDs can be certain that each device is being cleaned using a consistent process. Every SUD that undergoes third-party reprocessing is subjected to a strict FDA quality system, making the process more controlled and reliable. In addition, every reprocessed SUD is also function-tested and inspected before it ends up in the operating room (OR). Case in point: The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) confirmed that using reprocessed devices does not present an elevated health risk, supporting the safety and reliability SUD reprocessing[iii].


Many reusable devices, including ECG leads, have a complicated construction that makes them difficult to clean according to the specific instructions for use (IFU). Outsourcing the cleaning process to a third-party reprocessor allows the nurses and technicians who usually perform cleanings to redirect their time to activities that directly impact patients – helping to improve patient outcomes and quality of care.

The value equation:

With the shift to value-based health care and bundled payment models, the budget that providers are given to work with does not account for any potential complications, such as an HAI, that would require additional treatment, and therefore additional funding. When evaluating the cost difference of a reusable device versus a SUD it is important to take into consideration the cost to treat a HAI, should one occur. Because treatment of HAIs is not reimbursed by Medicare, the hospital is responsible for covering the cost – often upwards of $20,000[iv] per incident. This puts more pressure on staff to reduce the risk of infection. However, making the switch to SUDs and extending the life and value of those devices through third-party reprocessing has three-fold savings: health systems can lower the risk of costs associated with HAIs, reduce costs associated with waste disposal and purchase the devices back at a fraction of the cost of an original device.

Studies show making the switch to SUDs that can be reprocessed is a smart way to deliver quality care, at a lower cost.

– Erin Broeske is the senior marketing director for Stryker’s Sustainability Solutions Division.

[i] Magill SS, Edwards JR, Bamberg W, et al. Multistate Point-Prevalence Survey of Health Care-Associated Infections. The New England Journal of Medicine 2014;370:1198-208. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1306801.

[ii] Jancin, B (2004). “Antibiotic-Resistant Pathogens Found on 77% of ECG Lead Wires.” Cardiology News: Vol. 2, No. 3.

[iii] Government Accountability Office (2008). Reprocessed Single-Use Medical Devices: FDA Oversight Has Increased, and Available Information Does Not Indicate That Use Presents an Elevated Health Risk (pp. 1-42, Rep. No. GAO-08-147). Washington D.C. Retrieved from

[iv] Zimlichman E, Henderson D, Tamir O, Franz C, Song P, Yamin CK, Keohane C, Denham CR, Bates DW. Health Care-Associated Infections: A Meta-analysis of Costs and Financial Impact on the US Health Care System. JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(22):2039-2046. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.9763.



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