Lars Thording

Transparency in reprocessing: A healthcare provider’s checklist

February 27, 2024
This article is the first in a three-part series, looking at the evolution of the reprocessing industry, and empowering providers who are learning to navigate it.

By Lars Thording

In recent decades, single-use device reprocessing has become standard in hospitals across the country as a valuable tool in reducing the cost and environmental footprint of patient care. Today, the market is surging with new entrants, which is fantastic news when it comes to keeping the industry vibrant and competitive. But it also represents a moment of vulnerability in which a lack of diligence could erode the hard-won reputation of reprocessed products.

As new reprocessors enter the market, they must be held to the high standards that have been established in the industry, including robust transparency. Let’s take a look at the questions hospitals should be asking to ensure their partners are providing the transparency needed to maintain an efficient and successful reprocessing program.

Respect for hospital schedules, practices, and policies
Every hospital is unique in terms of how the rooms are operated, who plays what role, how supplies are stored, how supplies are purchased, and more. More specifically, device acquisition, storage, utilization, and collection follow unique paths that the reprocessing company needs to respect. This means ensuring that reprocessing follows smoothly along those same paths. The hospital should expect that purchasing can seamlessly integrate the purchase of reprocessed devices without having to establish new routines or otherwise fit into the reprocessor’s preferred way of doing business.

Similarly, the reprocessor should provide products in packaging that mimics the original manufacturer’s packaging, and product labeling should make it easy to select and obtain the reprocessed devices. If the hospital has specific inventory management systems in place, the reprocessor should fit seamlessly into these.

The same principles should guide the collection of used devices at the hospital. Collections should take place according to what is most practical for the hospital in terms of days and times. The primary consideration here is that hospitals are incredibly busy, and the reprocessor should not add to this by having their collection technologists show up when it is inconvenient. Hospitals should expect that collections always take place on the same day, at the same time, so the staff can be prepared.

Questions to ask
• Do your product codes integrate with inventory management systems like Wavemark?
• Do your products have UDI codes on the outer box?
• Can you work with our purchasing team to enter reprocessed product codes into our system?
• Does your packaging mimic OM packaging?
• How do I recognize your product as a reprocessed product in the supply room?
• When does your collection tech collect? What is their name?

Device marking and labeling
Reprocessed devices must be marked so that it is clear that they have been reprocessed and what company has reprocessed them. The reprocessor assumes ownership and liability for the device when it has been reprocessed, so this is important. If the device fails and it is not clearly marked, the hospital cannot determine where to file a complaint or where to look for responsibility. This is a key principle in reprocessing. Different reprocessors use different solutions, including serial stickers, laser etching, QR codes, pad printing, and others. There is no convention in the industry, but each reprocessor must use a clear system for marking the device.

It is important to keep in mind that the device is taken out of its packaging before use: The device itself has to be marked; the reprocessor cannot just mark the packaging.

Manufacturers invest a lot of time and money developing safe and effective products. Their brands have great value to them and to the clinicians. Legitimate reprocessors also invest great amount time and money in producing quality devices. Why would a reprocessor not be proud of their brand and clearly mark it?

Questions to ask
• How do you mark your devices?
• Can I see on a device that it has been reprocessed by your company?
• Do you mark the device itself or just the packaging?
• How do you mark your devices to keep track of number of uses?

Transparency in reporting
Hospitals use reprocessing to reduce procedure costs and environmental waste. Because of this, it is important that the hospital sees what cost savings and carbon emission reductions are driven by reprocessing. If this reporting is not transparent or frequent, the motivation for reprocessing goes away. Because environment and costs drive reprocessing behavior, this reporting needs to be done at the level where it can change or validate behaviors – the department must know, the doctor must know.

For the same reason, you should expect from your reprocessor that they do not mix bundle reprocessed product with other products sold by the same company: This hides the impact of reprocessing and usually comes out to the hospital’s disadvantage. Some forms of bundling are illegal.

Questions to ask
• Do you report cost savings on a monthly and quarterly basis?
• Do I have access to see my cost savings at any time?
• Do you provide reports that we can share with C-suite and physicians?
• Do you bundle reprocessed products with other products?

By ensuring your partners are committed to transparent practices in the above areas, you can ensure your organization is maximizing the sustainability, efficiency, safety and overall value of its single-use device reprocessing program.

About the author: Lars Thording is the VP of marketing & public affairs at Innovative Health LLC.