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Special report: Reprocessing in an era of health care reform

by Carol Ko, Staff Writer | January 22, 2014
From the January 2014 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

The authors argued that the financial benefits were so clear that public funds should be tapped to provide reprocessing to poorer hospitals: “Given the return on investment, the authors recommend that all hospitals adopt such programs and, in cases where capital investments could be financially burdensome, that public funds be used to provide loans or grants, particularly to safety-net hospitals.”

The Healthier Hospitals Initiative, an alliance of health systems looking to boost sustainability, released a report in April 2013 that found 185 hospitals saved $32 million last year by reprocessing single-use medical devices.

And published reports showed that Tenet Healthcare Corp. saved $9.4 million while diverting more than 1.5 million pounds of medical waste from landfills in 2012, while the Franciscan Health System expects to save $2 million in 2013 — all thanks to reprocessing.

A reprocessed device can cost between 30% and 50% less than the original device. To give one concrete example: data from Practice Greenhealth, a not-for-profit focused on green practices in health care, show that a new ultrasound catheter costs about $2,900 while a reprocessed one is $1,400. And laparoscopic instruments may cost $1,240 when purchased from the original equipment manufacturer, but a reprocessed one might cost only $250.

Reprocessing is seeing a lot of growth and change this year. But the FDA’s UDI rule for medical devices, issued last September, while daunting to some, will have minimal impact on the reprocessing sector , according to experts.
The UDI rule will have the biggest impact for manufacturers who’ve never had to create a UDI for their devices before. But most reprocessed devices already have a unique reprocessing number. Since 2006, the industry has been governed by a set of regulations that required a unique processing number for each device so authorities would be able to track it down if it caused problems in a patient. Thus the ruling doesn’t actually add much more difficulty to the process.

“In the near future we’ll see some sort of standardization of both types of UDI — eventually it’ll be only one UDI — one for the processor and one for the manufacturer,” said Millennium Research Group’s Perwaiz.
“It’s hard to know how things will be interpreted and shake out. About a year or so ago, when they put this stuff out for review, some people thought reprocessors would have to obliterate the original UDI and redo a new UDI. It turns out not to be the case,” said ECRI’s Lavanchy.

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