The National Academy of Medicine (NAM) is recommending use of reprocessed medical devices as one of several “key steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in US health systems,” according to a press release. As part of its Action Collaborative on Decarbonizing the US Health Sector, NAM recommends health systems reduce their dependence on single-use plastics, switch from disposable products to reusable, and optimize reprocessing as FDA regulations allow.
Single-medical device use soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, citing contamination concerns when using reusable alternatives. However, the rise in usage has also helped hospitals generate more greenhouse gas emissions then the entire aviation sector. Now, researchers and regulators are recognizing that reprocessing could represent a solution for slashing waste, cost, and emissions in healthcare.
Reprocessing has grown as an industry from roughly $20 million in 2000 to over $460 million in 2021. Additionally, over 10,000 hospitals and surgery centers used reprocessed SUDs in 2021.
NAM is the second federal government entity to advocate for reprocessing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, joining the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Last year, AHRQ release a primer on “Measures and Actions for Healthcare Organizations to Mitigate Climate Change”, which included reprocessing as a strategy.
“To meaningfully reduce emissions within this domain and improve resilience,” according to the primer, “healthcare organizations must shift away from single-use disposable devices and expand reusable inventories to maximize material value and minimize pollution.”
If all US hospitals used reprocessed devices at the rate of the top 10% performing hospitals — in terms of the number of reprocessed devices, according to the Association of Medical Device Reprocessors (AMDR), the hospitals would save nearly $2.5 billion.
“The NAM recommendation to reprocess more single-use medical… represents a ‘low hanging fruit’ solution for slashing waste, cost, and greenhouse gas emissions from the health sector,” said Daniel Vukelich, president and CEO of AMDR. “With hospitals generating more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire aviation sector, we have to embrace solutions like reprocessing that are proven and available immediately.”