In the medical field, there are two absolute truths: equipment is expensive, and it must stay clean. If purchased equipment cannot withstand harsh chemical cleaners used in medical settings, it quickly goes from a patient care investment to an expensive paperweight.
Barcode readers are an invaluable resource in hospitals world-wide. From patient IDs to medication management, barcode scanners are part of modern medical workflows. However, it can be a challenge to find devices that complement each hospital’s demanding work environment yet also withstand the harsh cleaning necessary for infection control.
To some, antimicrobial plastics seem the most effective solution. However, many misconceptions surround what antimicrobial plastics offer compared to disinfectant-ready plastics. Understanding these differences helps medical facilities make better informed choices about the mobile equipment for their locations.
Hospital-Acquired Condition (HAC) Reduction Program
According to a 2014 report on National Public Radio, “One out of every 8 patients nationally suffered a potentially avoidable complication during a hospital stay.” (1) Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services defines HACs as “a group of reasonably preventable conditions that patients did not have upon admission to a hospital, but which developed during the hospital stay.” By 2018, that number had declined to only 1 out of 31 patients. Progress has been made, but it hasn’t happened as fast as federal health officials would like. (2)
Under the Affordable Care Act, infection containment and reducing HACs has become a major focus. Medicare began a series of hospital evaluations looking at several HAC prevention areas and assigning each hospital an HAC score. As part of the HAC Reduction program, Medicare began penalizing hospitals with an insufficient HAC score(3).
According to Ann Farrell, Principal at Farrell Associates Health IT Consulting, LLC, “Financial penalties are driving C-Suite focus (e.g. chief operating officer, chief executive officer) on infection control. While HACs are multi-factorial, there is a growing awareness of the role devices taken room-to-room play in both spreading infection and prevention. These concerns have contributed to the rising number of in-room point-of-care device strategies and increasingly influence device vendor selection.” With this increased focus on infection control, the value of disinfectant-ready plastics that can withstand chemicals needed for infection containment and decreased HACs becomes paramount.
Antimicrobial vs. Disinfectant-Ready
According to Madison Group, an independent plastics testing company, antibacterial additives wear away with time. This means the plastic ceases to resist bacteria after prolonged use and repeated cleaning and disinfecting. Because antimicrobial additives are not inherent in the molecular structure, they weaken the plastic composition.
In an interview for Plastic News, Manish Nandi, Senior Product Developer for Sabic Innovative Plastics, gave insights on antimicrobial plastics. He mentioned that they are not a “cure-all” for disinfection and that, “the primary control is still going to be cleaning” with the antimicrobial additives acting as a sort of insurance policy.
This “insurance policy” may not account for substances used to clean the device. In reference to the harsh chemicals used to disinfect devices, Nandi said, “. . . to kill these really resistant bugs, they are coming up with harsher and harsher chemicals. And that is putting pressure on folks like us who are making the materials and surfaces because these materials are not friendly to the harsher chemicals.” (4)
Customers who choose antimicrobial devices could pay extra for a device that no longer remains antimicrobial. Or the customer spends more because the plastic has deteriorated from repeated exposure to harsh chemicals. In this age of cost control to make healthcare affordable, replacing devices for these reasons won't make that C-suite happy. The alternative is finding devices that do not suffer from this type of decomposition; devices that can withstand the rigors of daily use and daily cleanings in healthcare environments.
Medical Grade/Disinfectant Ready
The difference between antimicrobial and disinfectant-ready is similar to comparing something water resistant to something waterproof. While one offers you a minimum level of assurance, the other offers a guarantee. With financial punishment for HAC ratings, and focus on reducing costs, many medical facilities are looking for better options.
Disinfectant-ready materials won't break down when subjected to chemical disinfectants. The purpose of these plastic compositions is to withstand different levels of harsh chemical cleanings. Disinfectant resiliency varies from product to product in order to accommodate different microorganism levels of control. Manufacturers have different disinfectant chemical compositions in order to attack microorganisms in different ways. As a result, not all disinfectant-ready plastics are made equal.
How Code Can Help
The CDC recommends “Adequate cleaning and disinfection of equipment and environment” as part of infection control. (6) This recommendation requires that equipment endures the cleaning and disinfecting procedures without deterioration of materials or degradation of function.
Code offers a variety of scanning solutions for hospitals, each featuring CodeShield® Disinfectant-Ready plastics. These products can withstand repeated exposure to harsh cleaning and disinfectant products used in healthcare environments. (5) The number of scanning options available ensures hospitals and clinics can find the product they need with the durability required. This product longevity helps reduce replacement costs and gives hospitals and clinics another means of saving money in their facility.
Plastics injected with antimicrobial additives will resist growth of bacteria for an undetermined period of time. However, that does not eliminate the need to clean and disinfect the device. Antimicrobial plastic components are not made to withstand the harsh chemical cleaners found in healthcare environments. As a result, facilities that choose antimicrobial over disinfectant-ready plastics in their devices run the risk of spreading infections. They also risk degradation in both materials and performance, and costing healthcare facilities additional money for replacement devices. This not only increases the cost to patients, but hospitals may see an impact to HAC scores leading to impacts in Medicare and Medicaid funding.
With risks this significant, the choice seems relatively clear.
(1) Hospitals To Pay Big Fines For Infections, Avoidable Injuries (NPR)
(2) HAI Data | CDC
(4) Anti-microbial plastics play role in disease prevention - Plastics News (Plastics News)
(5) Disinfectant-Ready Plastics Code Data Sheet
(6) Centers for Disease Control