The Success of Reprocessing and The Industry’s Response - Limits To Increased Use of Reprocessed Single-Use Devices

Limits To Increased Use of Reprocessed Single-Use Devices

In February, Innovative Health presented our annual Excellence in Electrophysiology awards to those of our hospital partners that showed the strongest results from their reprocessing programs. A total of 30 hospitals received an award based on the savings or savings growth achieved in 2021. EP reprocessing results in terms of savings and in terms of the environment are substantial - and key in many hospitals’ efforts to reduce costs without sacrificing quality of care or forcing clinicians to change their approach to procedures. Average annual cost savings (in the EP lab only) for our awardees exceeded $350,000. The number of hospitals awarded for saving more than $1 Million doubled between 2020 and 2021.

The annual awards are a great opportunity to celebrate the environmental and financial benefits of reprocessing. However, this year, they are more than that; this year, they reflect the strong tailwinds for reprocessing and other reuse activities hospitals can engage in to reduce costs and environmental harm. As we finally get to a point where the worst of the pandemic seems to be behind us, hospitals and health systems continue to struggle with its consequences in terms of finances, staffing and population health, but infections, admissions and deaths are going down. In the last year of the pandemic, hospitals began to address its consequences more actively. We have seen hospitals in large numbers turn to reprocessing to access the benefits of reduced costs and lower environmental impact. In 2021, the average Innovative Health partner hospital increased savings from reprocessing by 16% and the number of hospitals utilizing Innovative Health’s reprocessing program increased by 25%. Total savings delivered by Innovative Health grew by a whopping 48% last year! 

 

Total savings delivered by Innovative Health grew by a whopping 48% last year!

 

The trend continues in 2022. During the first quarter, several health systems have contracted with Innovative Health to increase their savings from reprocessing. Similarly, our existing partners are more and more active in their quest for additional savings; devices that were not previously reprocessed are brought into the reprocessing program, and all staff is diligent about collecting the used devices and maximizing the number of reprocessed devices they buy back. At a time when cost reductions can be critical to the sustainability of EP lab operations, this is important. We expect our hospital partners to break savings records in 2022, and we continue to work on making more devices available for reprocessing.

However, there is an unfortunate mechanism in the medical device industry that is triggered when hospitals manage to reduce the cost of medical devices: The more hospitals save by buying fewer new devices, the more revenue the manufacturer loses. And since manufacturers seem to be more interested in revenue than in making hospitals more efficient in delivering care for their patients, they fight back by trying to prevent hospitals from saving money. Devices are designed with locks that make a second use impossible and smear campaigns are launched to create the impression that reprocessed devices are not safe – in spite of the close FDA oversight and the impeccable safety history of reprocessed devices. While more and more hospitals stand up against this practice to defend the financial sustainability of their EP programs, manufacturers overall are able to contain and limit the savings that can be realized through reprocessing.  

 

And since manufacturers seem to be more interested in revenue than in making hospitals more efficient in delivering care for their patients, they fight back by trying to prevent hospitals from saving money.

 

Of course, this mechanism does not HAVE TO be triggered – and it only works to some extent. The manufacturer’s savings reduction strategy is not the only way to respond to reprocessing-caused reduction in new devices sold. Manufacturers could embrace hospitals’ need to reduce costs and actively (not just symbolically) promote reprocessing as a safe and responsible supply chain strategy – and become part of the solution. I suspect in the longer term, revenue losses will be offset by increased market share, higher customer satisfaction, and a better relationship with the healthcare provider. In fact, I believe in the longer term, this is the only strategy that will work, as users, administrators, policymakers and others increasingly understand the unfortunate consequences of the mechanism.

Similarly, the mechanism only works to some extent. It only works as long as hospitals permit it to be triggered. And it only works to the extent its rationale (to increase revenue) can be sufficiently hidden or dressed up in software upgrades, design changes, etc.

In 2022, reprocessing will become an even more important tool for hospitals to contain costs and reduce environmental harm. However, to realize this, hospitals must play their part and protect their savings by managing contracts, distributing market shares, calling out bluffs, and reject “greenwashing” in the form of reprocessing programs that allege to support the practice while effectively limiting its benefits.

 

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