“Faced with shortages of medical devices, reprocessing is a necessity to continue to treat our patients”

Une significant part of modern medical and surgical technical procedures is based on the use of so-called “single-use” medical devices. These are marketed according to a linear economic model: “produce, use, dispose”. This model has not always existed. It is concomitant with the boom in the plastics industry, which has enabled a drastic reduction in manufacturing costs, profoundly impacting the economic model that prevails today.

Over the past thirty years, our learned societies and our regulatory authorities have promoted single use, perceived as safer from a health point of view. In a few decades, entire sections of our medicine have become dependent on these devices: this is the case, for example, with interventional cardiology (treatment of infarction, etc.), laparoscopic surgery (resection of digestive tumours, etc.), orthopedic surgery (hip and knee prostheses, treatment of fractures, etc.) or diagnostic techniques (endoscopies, biopsies, etc.).

In 2022, this linear pattern reaches its breaking point. The globalized supply chains on which it depends are weakened by growing tensions over hydrocarbons and the progressive depletion of raw materials. The result is an increase in manufacturing and transport costs and above all a worldwide shortage of these devices. Moreover, this generalized single-use model seems less and less acceptable due to its carbon footprint, the consumption of rare materials it generates and the plastic pollution it generates.

Several levers of action are possible

There are already supply difficulties in most healthcare establishments in France. Their concrete translation for patients is the increase in response times, and therefore the lengthening of waiting lists. Without deep structural changes, this situation will only get worse. An increasing number of procedures will be postponed or can no longer be carried out. The health consequences would then be disastrous.

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In order to get out of this critical situation, we must set ourselves the objective of reducing the use of “single-use” medical devices as much as possible. To achieve this goal, several levers of action are possible:

  • The improvement of preventive medicine and a reflection on our practices to limit the use of medical devices.
  • Accelerating the implementation of a national strategy for securing the supply of critical medical devices.
  • The transition to a service economy integrating the provision of reusable devices (sterilization, reconditioning, etc.).
  • A more restrictive regulation of the “single use” marking, so that the devices are all designed to be reusable except duly justified exception.

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