When it comes to healthcare, plastics have been instrumental in keeping patients and medical staff safe during the pandemic. Dr. Saif talks of the role that plastics play in saving lives every single day.
Plastics and their role in healthcare applications
Plastics have had a huge impact on the healthcare industry. They have shown to be one of the few versatile materials that has been able to adapt to the dynamic nature of the healthcare field as it has progressed driven by new scientific discoveries and the advancement of medicine in tackling life-changing diseases. Without the various plastic-based medical products that we tend to take for granted today, modern healthcare would be impossible. Have you ever looked around during a doctor’s appointment? Plastics are used in a variety of medical applications, from exam gloves to sterile syringes and sticky bandage strips, and from intravenous blood bags to IV tubes and heart valves. Thanks to their remarkable barrier properties, plastics safely guard against contamination. Innovations in plastics are also making new procedures possible.
Safety of patients and healthcare professionals
Healthcare workers are exposed to viruses and deadly diseases every day. Because of this potential exposure, it is important to protect healthcare workers and their patients. One material that offers protection from these viruses and diseases are medical grade plastics for the following reasons:
Medical plastic itself is designed to be temperature, chemical and corrosion resistant. That way, it can handle frequent sterilization cycles and any other medical or bodily fluids with which it comes into contact.
Since medical plastic is shatter-proof and non-permeable, it is a great solution for safely transporting biohazardous materials. The safe removal of medical waste helps prevent the spread of dangerous pathogens. Medical plastic is also used in tamper-proof caps, ensuring that no foul play is present in a patient’s pharmaceuticals.
Medical plastic has a great deal of applications in healthcare, from the obvious to the unexpected. Disposable medical products like bed pans, inhalation masks and IV tubes have shifted from other materials to plastic in recent decades. Today, plastic is used in pill casings and several kinds of internal implants, from catheters to joint replacements. Most of what you see in a modern hospital room is made of some form of plastic.
Today, the importance of plastics to healthcare workers and patients alike has become more prominent as countries work to distribute COVID-19 vaccines. Notably, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines only work if kept at very cold temperatures. Innovative plastics such as expanded polystyrene—more commonly known by the brand Styrofoam – solve these challenges and ensure vaccines are safely delivered to patients.
Plastics are, and will continue to be, critical to public safety and efficient public health operations. This has become even clearer during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Educating people about the role of plastic in healthcare while ensuring we address plastic waste
There are many innovations being developed within the medical industry that offer alternatives to plastics. Where some of these are viable there is a large proportion that will never be as good or efficient as plastic for medical needs.
It’s important therefore that sustainability policies, at a national level, within health boards, and individual practices and hospitals are put in place to help medical facilities practice green health safely.
The value that plastic brings to the medical industry in general from an economical aspect
The wide range of applications, low manufacturing costs and longevity of medical plastic makes it a sought-after investment in modern medicine. Metal and glass equipment is prone to corrosion and shattering, but plastic is resistant to both. Also, while some plastic tools are made for single-use disposal, other equipment is designed to handle repeated sterilizations and last a great deal longer.
Medical plastics can be mass-produced at low cost and are thereby very economical. Also, the material’s lower weight compared to metals, glass and ceramics keeps transportation costs and cost of part per unit weight down. Considering the projected demand for healthcare worldwide, affordability is a principal factor in most countries.
Single use plastics are irreplaceable in the medical profession thanks to their hygiene and life-saving properties. Why are they important in protecting people’s health?
Hygiene and infection control is a top priority in any hospital or medical facility. In this regard, single-use plastics perform a vital role in the medical industry by preventing the spread of bacteria and infectious diseases.
Disposable medical tools, such as syringes, drug tests, bandages, and gloves (all of which are typically made from plastics), are a necessity when handling bodily fluids. In the medical research field, plastic pipettes, vials, and sample bags, are also common. Since many of these instruments cannot be reused due to the risk of cross-contamination, single-use plastics are ideal for these applications.
In addition to their strength, resilience, and safety, single-use plastics are also preferred due to cost-effectiveness. In an industry where products are tossed out frequently, it is economically feasible to use items made from the cheapest available materials.
During the recent COVID-19 pandemic, single-use plastics have played an important role and one that deserves acknowledgement as a result of the bad press this material often receives.
They have been used for home delivery services, hand sanitizer bottles, and also by medical institutions who have been advised to double-bag clinical waste from any COVID-19 patients, not to mention PPE gear.
Some of the measures that hospitals and clinics in the UAE (and wider Gulf region) take to dispose of single use plastic medical equipment responsibly
There are organizations that collect and separate medical waste so it can be reused or recycled at respective facilities. Other groups ensure that hospital products, otherwise destined for the landfill, are recovered and sterilized by a third-party company so they can be reused.
Hospitals are also doing their part by choosing more durable plastics that can be sterilized and reused because they do not crack or degrade over time and can remain safe through cleaning and reuse. Some facilities are working to reduce waste by better managing inventory or are opting for single item packages instead of bundled items that cannot be reused once packages are opened. Sustainability efforts like these are key to the success of hospitals and COVID-19 has made this even clearer.