8 September/October | 2013 | wwwSurgicalProductsMag.com
FOCUS ON: Fluid Control
Managing hospital waste is a complex but important pro- cess. Through the use of disposal products, protective quipment, prudent practices, and the implementation
of fluid management systems, hospitals and other medical facilities are
able to dispose of hospital waste in a way that minimizes the spread of
infection. In general, the practices and safeguards are working. But there
are still areas where hospitals can improve. According to Bill Merkle,
President, of MD Technologies, “The area of greatest weakness in the
process of disposing waste is the exposure of staff to potentially infectious matter.” So while hospitals work to cut costs and shorten surgery
time, they also need to continue to focus on that important aspect of
waste disposal: limiting exposure to infectious fluids in order to keep
patients and medical personnel healthy and infection free.
Dealing With Microorganisms Today, the most common practice for handling waste remains the use of disposable canisters. When patients undergo surgery, they can produce dozens
of liters of fluids that necessitate safe and immediate disposal. This fluid is
disposed of either by using a solidifier—which turns the fluid into a gel—and
then disposing the gel in a landfill, or by flushing the fluid down a sink and
then throwing the container away or cleaning the canister for reuse.
According to Merkle, canisters are handled at the bedside, at the hopper
or storage area where they will be transported, and later at the incinerator
or landfill. During each instance, there is possibility for the healthcare or
other service worker to be exposed to pathogenic bacteria and viruses.
This antiquated method of disposal poses a real threat to healthcare workers. It is also costly and harmful for the environment— these potentially
diseased or bloody canisters can cost a facility anywhere from $0.30 to
$0.50 per pound to dispose of in a landfill, and can take centuries to bio-degrade.
The other main method for surgical waste removal seems, at a glance,
to be safer: it is a closed cart system that suctions and collects liquids
during surgery and transports them to a separate disposal station.
However, three versions of this system have recently been recalled, as
they contributed to patient deaths. Experts suggest that some of these
current systems are expensive, inefficient, and expose staff and patients
to potentially harmful microorganisms.
Recognizing Hidden Costs
Many facilities use various fluid management systems to dispose of these
harmful microorganisms and in the majority of cases, waste management is
adequate, though experts maintain that there are costs and risks inherent
to the canister system. Depending upon the method, it is necessary to pro-
tect workers using masks, gowns, gloves, and other protective gear— which
all add to disposal costs. Mistakes in these methods include inadequate
isolation by not using the protective gear, and improper use of equipment
that results in exposure to the fluid.
Oftentimes the issue is not so much that waste is inadequately managed
by nurses and doctors, but that the safety dangers to the staff and patients
are not adequately understood by the administration. Too often, the true
costs of handling waste and additional safety costs are minimized; only
material costs are reflected in an analysis, and the efficiencies and safety
costs are not recognized.