'Momentous': The Rise of Disposable Surgical Instruments

A busy operating theatre is a bit like a busy restaurant kitchen. The surgeon or chef is in charge, with a support crew who all has a very specific job to do. The pressure is intense, stress levels can skyrocket, and it’s physically exhausting.

In a restaurant, job of a dishwasher or porter is to keep the engine running to deliver sparkling dishes to waiting customers. But things can go wrong if dishes are packed too close and not cleaned properly. Or the chef’s favourite skillet goes missing after being washed, causing momentary chaos. As one restaurant critic found out when he worked a shift as a dishwasher in Houston, it’s true that “bad ones [dishwashers] will bring the ship down”.

In an operating theatre, surgical instruments are sent to a sterilising department to undergo meticulous cleaning and disinfection before being returned for reuse. But like the busy restaurant, things can go wrong. Sometimes the process takes longer than it should, and can even hold up surgery. Or there’s residual contamination that can cause infection in the next patient. Or instruments go missing on their complex journey, causing more delays.


The rise of single use surgical instruments

This analogy paints the picture for why disposable sterile surgical instruments are growing in popularity. A 2017 Australian study found that extensive protein deposits were found on stainless steel instruments that had been processed multiple times, with biofilm found on half the instruments as well as microscopic damage to instruments. And a guide from the Australian Commission for Safety and Quality in Healthcare reported that each year in Australia, 180,000 patients suffer healthcare associated infections that prolong their hospital stay and consume two million hospital bed days. One Australian state found that the excess costs associated with only 126 surgical site infections was over $5 million.

So it may not be surprising that a recent industry report describes the forecasted growth of sterile disposable surgical instruments in the Asia-Pacific region as ‘momentous’ in the period 2019-2025. Global growth is attributed to factors such as technological advancements, aging populations and increase in chronic diseases.

At Elite Medical, we are seeing the trend here in Australia. Disposable bipolar forceps are our most popular product, with other disposable products increasing in use in recent years. Australian hospitals are saying that staff are stretched and struggling with surgery backlogs, and when they assess the time saved, the risks avoided vs the cost, it often makes sense to switch to disposable. Elite Medical’s Adrian May said: “The cost of disposables has come down over the last 10 years, while the cost of reprocessing has gone up. It’s also important to weigh up the frequency of use of an instrument, especially high value forceps.”