Single-use instruments reduce risk of healthcare-associated infections and help fight surgical site infections

Healthcare facilities across the country continue to work on improving patient safety. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, administrators and practitioners sought to bolster their infection control protocols to reduce the risk of healthcare-associated infections. In an effort to reduce the transmission of disease, medical professionals are shifting to the use of single-use instruments and supplies. The industry-wide focus is further augmented by new guidelines and warnings from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Federal Drug Administration (FDA), and The Joint Commission on the use of reusable instruments, especially those used in surgical settings.

Although medical practitioners understand the need to clean, disinfect, and sterilize reusable instruments, the risk of cross contamination remains. The CDC recommends that, when the situation permits, clinicians turn to disposable, single-use instruments and supplies. The organization reports, “using disposable items improves patient safety by eliminating the risk of patient-to-patient contamination.” Single-use items eliminate the chance of cross contamination as they are disposed of immediately following use. In addition, Repertoire Magazine recently reported how sterile, single-use supplies were considered the “only way to guarantee 100 percent sterility for each patient.” These items can also save the medical staff time by removing the need for disinfection and reprocessing.

In surgical settings, clinicians and infection preventionists have been working to lower the risk of surgical site infections (SSIs). SSIs are the most common healthcare-associated infections. According to the Center for Public Integrity, quantifying the degree to which contaminated reusable instruments contribute to the number of SSIs is difficult. This is because bacteria can hide anywhere; however, experts believe that the incidence of contaminated reusable surgical instruments is far more than what is currently understood. Dr. Melissa Schaefer, a medical officer with the CDC, concurred with this idea, “The cases we hear about are only the tip of the iceberg.”

Advances in technology are allowing for more procedures to be performed using micro-instrumentation. These facilitate less invasive procedures on patients. However, these instruments are difficult to clean and harder to reuse. Therefore, the reprocessing of surgical instruments such as these is an increasingly difficult task.

As a result of these concerns, many surgeons and medical practices have begun to perform a shift towards single-use, disposable instruments and supplies. This data was further confirmed by a study conducted by the Freedonia Group (study #3111) that reported on increasing U.S. demand for single-use supplies saying that the market would “expand 4.1 percent annually to $49.3 billion in 2018.”

Here are seven benefits clinicians and hospital administrators can expect from a switch to single-use:

1. Risk management

Single-use, sterile supplies assist in risk management by lowering the risk of cross-contamination, thereby reducing the spread of healthcare-associated infections.

2. Sterilization and reprocessing

Utilizing disposable items eliminates the need for reprocessing. The removal of the cleaning, disinfection, and sterilization process saves time for the medical staff and improves their efficiency. Moreover, it reduces the costs associated with adhering to compliance regulations and disinfection guidelines, such as operating an autoclave as required for certain instruments or purchasing hospital-grade disinfectant sprays.

3. Traceability of instruments

All single-use items are individually traceable. To trace the instrument back to its production batch and date, clinicians need only refer to the lot number on the packaging.

4. Logistics and inventory

Maintaining an inventory of expensive, reusable instruments is no longer cost-effective for many facilities. As minor surgical procedures in the non-acute space become more common, practices can save time and money by switching to sterile, single-use instruments. In addition to eliminating the need for reprocessing equipment, disposable supplies allow practices to adjust their stock with their demand at a cost that is lower than reusable supplies.

5. Cost allocation

It is difficult for hospitals and healthcare reimbursement agencies to record the cost of sterilization and reprocessing of reusable instruments. Utilizing single-use supplies simplifies the cost of surgical instruments by removing the need to take reprocessing into account.

6. Insurance reimbursement

Reusable instruments are defined as routine supplies in healthcare reimbursement policy. According to Moda Health, “In most cases payment for these supplies is included in the administration charge, which is reportable with a CPT or HCPCS code. In the inpatient setting, the administration service is included in the room charge or facility fee, and reimbursement for these supplies is included in the reimbursement for the eligible services. These items, if identified on a claim or itemized bill, are not eligible for separate reimbursement or for inclusion in outlier calculations for additional reimbursement.” In contrast, single-use items are not defined as routine supplies as they cannot be re-used. Non-routine supplies are separately billable as they can be directly tied to a specific procedure. Thus, healthcare providers can bill for these items with or without an HCPCS code by using an appropriate revenue code.

7. Cost savings

Although it may seem that disposing of an item after each patient use is wasteful, the time and costs associated with reprocessing reusable items usually outweigh the cost of single-use items. Practices using reusable instruments must take into account the resources it will require to properly disinfect each item.

Healthcare facilities should take into account their unique needs and the guidelines and recommendations of regulatory agencies when deciding whether to transition to single-use. Taking these steps can help improve patient safety and reduce the risk of healthcare-associated infections.

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