Economy sparks interest in device reprocessing

Most outpatient surgery providers would like to do business in a way that is good for the environment, but it certainly is a plus when going green also delivers cost-savings. That is precisely what many hospitals have found to be the case with the reprocessing of medical devices.

Phoenix-based Banner Health, for example, saved more than $2 million by reprocessing medical devices last year, and it pocketed an additional $30,000 in savings in waste-removal avoidance, according to Sarah Remington, Banner Health's environmental compliance coordinator.

"We were able to avert about 62,000 pounds of waste," Remington says.

While Banner Health has been reprocessing medical devices for a decade, many hospitals are effectively leaving cash on the table by not having such a program in place or by not fully realizing all the savings that they could be achieving, according to commentary in the March 2010 issue of Academic Medicine.1 In that piece, the authors maintain that health care facilities have been slow to adopt the reprocessing of medical equipment because of misconceptions regarding safety as well as the process involved with recycling medical devices. The article noted that in 2002, only about one-quarter of U.S. hospitals reprocessed at least one type of single-use device (SUD), but it further noted that the current economic squeeze is prompting many more providers to consider reprocessing medical equipment because these devices cost roughly half as much as new medical devices.

The Association of Medical Device Reprocessors (AMDR), based in Washington, DC, concurs and indicates that in 2010, more than two-thirds of all U.S. hospitals are reprocessing at least some of the medical devices that they use. "We are serving over 4,500 individual facilities," explains Daniel Vukelich, Esq., the president of AMDR.

An average-sized hospital can achieve savings in the area of $500,000 per year from the reprocessing of medical equipment, Vukelich says.

Stringent standards answer safety concerns

While some facilities formerly performed their own reprocessing, more stringent Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversight of reprocessed medical equipment, implemented in 2002, made in-house reprocessing impractical, says Vukelich. However, such standards have gone a long way toward alleviating concerns about safety.

Winning over surgeons and other clinicians can be a challenge, however.

In fact, with her background as an operating room nurse, Dee Whittington, RN, BSN, CNOR, a clinical supply manager at Banner Health, was a "doubter" about reprocessed devices until she toured a reprocessing facility and witnessed firsthand how the equipment is broken down into parts, sterilized, and scrutinized. "We are taught that 'single use' means 'single use,'" Whittington says. "So it really took an impressive display for [the reprocessing facility] to not only change my mind, but make me an advocate by the time I was done with the tour."

Mergers and acquisitions within the reprocessing industry have drastically reduced the number of reprocessing companies. Today, Vukelich notes that just two companies, Ascent Healthcare Solutions, based in Phoenix, and SterilMed, based in Minneapolis, handle about 95% of all third-party reprocessing in the United States.

Between 10% and 50% of the medical reprocessing business involves devices that have been taken out of their packaging but have never been used.


  1. Kwakye G, Pronovost P, Makary M, et al. A call to go green in health care by reprocessing medical equipment. Acad Med2010; 85:398-400.