The pros of plastic in the medical industry
Plastic has been on the receiving end of a lot of bad publicity. A fair percentage of this is justified. There are, however, some environments where the benefits of plastics, even single-use plastics, far outweigh the disadvantages. The medical industry is one of them. Here are just some of the benefits of plastics in the medical industry.
Probably the single, biggest benefit of plastics in the medical industry is that they help to promote a truly hygienic environment. In fact, the use of disposable plastics is currently unavoidable if an environment has to be kept totally sterile.
For example, medicines and medical products for internal use are routinely packaged in plastic due to the need to protect them from any form of contamination. Similarly, medical staff use disposable plastic gloves (and sometimes clothing) to minimize the possibility of cross-infection as they go about their rounds.
Even when products are intended to be used multiple times, it can still be best to create them out of plastic. Firstly, plastic is inherently antibacterial. It is non-organic and hence does not provide bacteria with any of the resources they need to survive. It’s also very easy to keep hygienically clean. In particular, it will stand up to being cleaned with very hot water and/or chemicals.
On a slightly different note, plastic is also the safest option for storing and transporting hazardous materials. In the medical industry, this can include blood and bodily fluids (e.g. for testing) as well as chemicals such as cleaning fluids or medicines. Medical-grade plastics are very robust and can be completely sealed to protect against contamination (in either direction).
These days, the word “plastic” is generally used to refer to the material. Originally, however, it referred to a material’s ability to be formed easily into different shapes. When plastic was first discovered, it was quickly noticed that it had excellent plasticity and hence was named after this outstanding quality.
Modern, medical-grade plastics are malleable but robust and hypoallergenic. This means that they can be used both on and in the human body. They can also be used for both large-scale and small-scale production runs. In fact, they can even be used for literal one-off production runs, for example in additive manufacturing (3D printing).
Plastics are already being used to create one-off, customized medical products such as prosthetics (e.g. joint replacements). These are much lighter than the traditional versions and are much less likely to irritate the body. Their durability means that they also have an extended lifespan. As a result, patients can enjoy a quicker recovery and a better overall quality of life.
Going forward, it may be possible to use plastics to reduce the length of time patients have to wait for operations such as joint replacements. As 3D printing develops, hospitals may be able to use it to create prosthetics on-sit and “to order” in minimal time.
Nick Mills, General Manager of Ansini, who are Medical Plastic Manufacturers, said, “Even in the UK, the medical industry, like all other industries, is subject to financial pressures. Using plastics can help to minimize those costs all the way along the course of the treatment. What’s more, it does so without impacting patient care. In fact, it can even improve the patient experience.”
For example, a doctor changing gloves between patients is much more hygienic than a doctor washing their hands between patients. It’s also massively quicker. This time saving means that a doctor can use more of their shift to do their proper job and less on basic hygiene precautions. This saves money for the NHS and improves the patient experience. Changing gloves is also better for a doctor’s skin than constant hand-washing.
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