A New Normal in Safe Medical Waste Handling
Over the year, folks across the globe have quickly become junior infection preventionists. Everyone is constantly aware of how many surfaces they’ve touched between hand washes, how close they are standing to others, and overall looking at the world with a fresh perspective centered on infection control. This newly fueled passion for hygiene must motivate US healthcare to advocate for and choose healthcare waste management practices that are equally centered on infection control. Medical waste handling is something that impacts almost every clinical worker. So, what does medical waste handling currently look like and what does it mean to create #ANewNormal in safe handling?
In this blog
01 / What is medical waste and how is it currently handled?
02 / The infection risks of handling medical waste
03 / How clean are your medical waste containers?
04 / How improper medical waste handling can impact your costs (case study)
05 / How to advocate for #ANewNormal in medical waste handling
Let’s first review: What is medical waste?
More specifically, what is Regulated Medical Waste?
Regulated Medical Waste is the classification for wastes that are contaminated with blood, body fluids or other potentially infectious materials, thus posing the risk of transmitting infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, medical waste is “waste sufficiently capable of causing infection during handling and disposal.”
Some items that may be considered Regulated Medical Waste (RMW) are:
- Saturated dressings and bandages
- Gloves or surgical masks
- Blood transfusion bags and lines
- Contaminated PPE
- Sealed disposable sharps containers
Medical waste is disposed of using any of the three methods below:
- Waste is placed in a corrugated cardboard box or red, tub lined with a red, plastic biohazardous waste bag. When full, the bag is tied, and the box or tub is sealed.
- Waste is placed in a red, static kick-bin that is lined with a red biohazardous waste bag. This is the most common method for disposing of waste in patient rooms. When full, the bag is pulled from the static kick-bin, tied, and placed in a larger bin for transportation and disposal. The static container does not leave the patient room.
- Waste is placed a bagless reusable container, such as this, that opens by foot-pedal. When full, this container is permanently sealed and safe for transportation and disposal.
Did you know that each of these methods offers a different level of infection risk? Which one do you think is the safest?
The infection risk of handling medical waste
If medical waste is defined as being contaminated with blood, bodily fluids, or other potentially infectious materials – you want to minimize touching it as much as possible.
COVID-19 has inspired the world to rethink how things are done – and we are asking that US healthcare take a critical look at waste handling and its impact on safety and hygiene. In the previous section, we mentioned the main methods of RMW disposal.
Each has a different risk level to clinicians, EVS, and patients. If you analyze each method in terms of touches during disposal you will find:
Most touches: Bag & Carbdoard Box or Biohazardous Waste Tub Method
Not only is this one of the unsightlier solutions, imagine having a cardboard box in your kitchen for trash instead of a closed-lid system, but it also requires multiple touches during disposal and manual bag tying before sealing the box.
Still too many touches for comfort: Bag + Static Kick Bin. While slightly more sustainable by eliminating the cardboard box, this method means that a healthcare worker is regularly reaching into a static container to tie a bag off, then transporting that bag to a larger wheeled bin for disposal. The risk of unnecessary touches and moving the waste throughout the facility can all be avoided. Static bins usually remain on site in the patient environment as well - buthow often are they cleaned?
Zero touches: Bagless, Hands-free Container Method. Containers like the Medismart offer hands-free disposal with a foot-pedal opening. The bag is eliminated which means that neither the inside of the container or the disposed waste is ever touched, removing risk of cross-contamination and infection transfer risk. Once the container is full, it is permanently locked and transported to a soiled utility room until pickup. Full containers undergo a decanting and 6-stage sanitization process at Daniels Health processing plants – ensuring the wheels of safety, sustainability and cleanliness keep turning.
How clean are your medical waste containers?
While reducing touches is a key part of infection control, COVID-19 has also underscored the need for stronger sanitization practices.
Ask yourself a few of these questions:
- When was your container last cleaned?
- Is each staff member coming into contact with that container removing their gloves and sanitizing their hands before leaving that clinical area?
- How much does your medical waste container move throughout your facility before it goes to the loading dock for transportation and disposal?
Daniels Health designed its entire medical waste management process around those questions, innovating its flagship solution, the Medismart – a bagless, hands-free container designed to reduce infection control and safety risk to users. The Medismart, along with our other reusable systems, goes through a 6-step sanitization and washing process each time the interior contents are decanted at our processing plants. Our robotic process achieves a level of sanitization 4x higher than required by the CDC in the United States.
The Medismart passed the rigorous testing required of a Pharmacy Clean Room. In a case study, our container passed the ATP test with an unprecedentedly low microbial count, the highest being 103 relative light units. (The original target level was <250 relative light units.)
The other thing to keep in mind is that with a mobile, foot-pedal operated, and bagless system – you can virtually eliminate any unnecessary touches during the waste disposal. The Daniels Medismart creates the opportunity to not only cut down on plastic use by eliminating red bags but to remove waste from the patient environment all-together.
The mobility of the Medismart allows regulated medical waste to be disposed of at the point of generation, then wheeled away from the patient area – further reducing contamination risk and minimizing patient interruptions with reduced in-room services. The Medismart is only touched during secure movement through a facility and when taking it to the loading dock for transportation to a Daniels processing facility. The disposal process of waste using Medismart is entirely hands-free: an infection preventionists dream.
How improper medical waste handling can impact your costs (case study)
Have we highlighted enough to convince you that the medical waste container you use has a direct impact on your ability to safely handle waste? We hope so!
While improving modern healthcare waste management strategies to have the strongest defense against infection spread is invaluable, it’s no secret that costs play a role in how healthcare evaluates solutions.
Thankfully, a hands-free containment system impacts costs too – in a very favorable fashion!
When a 360-bed acute-care private hospital found their use of a 64 gallon bin posed issues with infection risk, staff injury risks, waste volumes, space and costs – they decided to trial the Medismart system.
Conversion to the Medismart system resulted in:
- A 65% reduction in medical waste volume
- A 30.9% reduction in medical waste disposal costs
- A 69.2% reduction in labor costs
The Medismart showed an instant reduction in infection risk and sharps injury risk and was strongly preferred by users to the previous system; it was found to be more space-efficient and logistically superior. The Medismart system rollout eliminated all issues previously noted with its former 64Gallon bin system.
How to advocate for #ANewNormal in medical waste handling
Let’s review the tenants of #ANewNormal in medical waste handling:
- The ability for hands-free disposal and solutions that reduce the overall amount of touches
- Solutions that enable waste to be removed from the patient environment
- Systems that greatly benefit everyday users and impact their safety
Passion for safety and innovation have fueled Daniels Health for over 30 years in healthcare. If you are feeling emboldened, excited, and ready to modernize healthcare waste management with safe handling methods that just make sense – contact us today. Our team of clinical experts will support you in creating an updated healthcare waste management strategy that works for you – and protects you.