Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, you kept your hospital well stocked with the proper PPE equipment and medical garments for your staff, patients, and visitors. Once COVID-19 started spreading, hospitals everywhere realized they were inadequately prepared.
In early spring as the coronavirus took hold, foreign supply lines—disposable PPE manufacturers in China and India—weren’t an option. The CDC even recommended the use of cloth isolation gowns and reusable PPE in March 2020 to accommodate shortages1. Hospitals and medical facilities had to return to the old ways—using reusable PPE and medical textiles like patient gowns, isolation gowns, and scrubs.
Although the switch was necessitated by the coronavirus, we think it’s here to stay. Why? Because when looking at reusable vs. disposable medical garments, reusable healthcare garments come out on top. Reusable medical textiles meet the same safety standards2 as their disposable counterparts while providing hospitals with unique advantages that will keep them prepared moving forward.
Below, we compare disposable and reusable medical garments by discussing some of the challenges presented by disposables and the three key advantages presented by reusables.
Challenges of Disposable Medical Garments
Disposable medical garments have their upsides—primarily lower upfront cost and convenience. However, relying on disposable medical garments—especially during a pandemic—presents a slew of challenges.
1. Disposable gowns cost more over time
A disposable gown costs a hospital the same amount whether a doctor wears it for three minutes or several hours. After just one use, it’s trash. This results in significant costs to the hospital as you deal with the cost of:
- Continually supply the hospital with disposable PPE and medical textiles
- Disposing of the packaging
- Disposing of the used disposable medical textiles
- The labor involved in opening frequent shipments and restocking
Hospitals who’ve switched from disposable isolation gowns to reusable isolation gowns report millions in savings3.
2. The supply chain for disposable medical textiles and PPE isn’t reliable
Hospitals across the U.S. faced PPE and medical textile shortages as needs skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and protocols changed. Medical facilities couldn’t access their typical supply lines for disposable medical textiles, or price-gouging occurred. Available manufacturers couldn’t keep up with the demand, causing huge supply shortages across the country4.
The pandemic revealed how dependent hospitals are on foreign supply lines and how unreliable that dependency is. It also showed that America can’t fulfill the demand for disposable PPE.
3. Disposable healthcare textiles are unsustainable
Disposable medical garments have a short product life of anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. Once the exam, test, or surgery is over, a single-use patient gown enters the disposal phase of its life cycle. The healthcare industry generates an average of 25 pounds of waste per patient every day5. Disposable products like isolation gowns and surgical gowns, which only get used once, contribute to that large number.
The Three Advantages of Reusable Medical Garments
A retired infectious disease epidemiologist, Dr. Murray Cohen, writes “Reusable personal protective equipment, scrubs, patient gowns and other reusable healthcare garments have already proven safe and effective and more sustainable than disposable products.6”
Reusable medical garments used to be the standard. Here’s why so many hospitals are starting to revert ways and return to reusable medical garments:
1. Switching to reusable healthcare garments saves hospitals money
It might surprise you to learn that relying on reusable rather than disposable medical garments can result in significant cost savings.
A case study of Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center located in West Los Angeles, California, reveals just how much you can save3. In May 2012, the hospital started a reusable isolation gown pilot program to reduce its reliance on disposable gowns. From the program’s start until November 2015, the hospital reported using a total of 3.3 million reusable gowns for a total financial savings of $1.1 million.
2. The supply line for reusable medical textiles is more reliable
Since the COVID-19 crisis hit, textile manufacturers across the United States started ramping up production of reusable isolation gowns, patient gowns, scrubs, and privacy curtains7. There are more reusable PPE and medical garments available now than ever before. Even industrial launderers have increased their production to meet the sanitary standards and demand.
Washing medical garments requires more steps—collection, sanitizing, laundering, return—but it’s still a more reliable alternative to disposable PPE products, especially those manufactured in other countries.
Better access to decontamination systems like the Critical Care Decontamination System8 could help make a permanent switch toward reusable medical textiles even easier. The FDA approved the system for use in disinfecting PPE during the coronavirus crisis.
3. Reusable medical garments are better for the environment
A study published in March of 2020 revealed that reusable gowns are better for the environment than their disposable counterparts. The study analyzed six major life-cycle activities of a reusable gown and a disposable gown, including gown manufacturing and supply chain, packaging manufacturing and supply chain, laundry, sterilization, the use of the gown, and the disposal.
According to the study9, using reusable gowns as opposed to disposable gowns:
- Reduced energy use by 64%
- Avoided 66% of the greenhouse gas emissions caused by disposable gowns
- Used 83% less blue water
- Reduced 84% of the landfill waste caused by surgical gowns
Venus Group Makes Healthcare Textiles Engineered for Safety and Comfort
When you’re ready to expand your hospital or medical office’s reusable healthcare textile offerings, turn to Venus Group. Venus Group is a U.S. textile manufacturer that engineers and manufactures healthcare textiles designed to meet the safety standards your operation requires while keeping the comfort of your patients and employees in mind.
Browse our patient gowns, scrubs, lab coats, and more to see how we can help you make the switch from disposable to reusable medical garments. Have questions? Reach out to us via phone at 800-421-6499 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- CDC, Gowns
- AAMI, ANSI/AAMI PB70: 2012
- Practice Green Health, Reusable Isolation Gowns Case Study
- FDA, Medical Device Shortages During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency
- Sustainability Roadmap for Hospitals
- Will Maddox, The Case for Reusable PPE
- TRSA, Textile Industry Focusing on Medical Garments Amid COVID-19 Pandemic
- NPR, Technology To Clean And Reuse PPE Is Being Deployed To Hotspot Hospitals
- AORN Journal, An Environmental Analysis of Reusable and Disposable Surgical Gowns