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Reusable Versus Disposable PPE

NOMINATED TOPIC | April 27, 2020

Reusable Versus Disposable Personal Protective Equipment

1. What is the decision or change you are facing or struggling with where a summary of the evidence would be helpful?

We are interested in identifying the benefits and risks of reusable as opposed to disposable personal protective equipment (PPE) in hospital settings. Hospital staff frequently, especially during the current pandemic response, wear PPE to prevent disease transmission. The optimal type of PPE is not established by data.

2. Why are you struggling with this issue?

Many facilities have recently shifted practice from reusable equipment that would be laundered or otherwise reprocessed prior to return to clinical use to using purely disposable equipment. Examples include precaution gowns and hats. On one hand, people cite infection control as a reason to change to disposable equipment. On the other hand, disposable equipment generates more waste and can lead to greater environmental impacts, which then lead to human health impacts downstream. We are curious if the likely very small infection control risks are outweighed by the environmental and human health risks of disposable equipment. Additionally, disposable equipment can be subject to supply chain concerns during times of high demand, such as during a pandemic.

3. What do you want to see changed? How will you know that your issue is improving or has been addressed?

We would like to see the best evidence supporting health care facilities’ practices. I and my colleagues’ read of the evidence is that any potential infection control benefit would be exceptionally small, compared to a real outcome of environmental degradation and human health deterioration. We would like to see regulatory bodies, including accreditation agencies (e.g., The Joint Commission), address these concerns.

4. When do you need the evidence report?

Wed, 09/30/2020

5. What will you do with the evidence report?

If possible having a report by fall of this year would enable discussion and dissemination at medical conferences starting then. We hope to use the report to educate colleagues, advocate at health facilities, and develop practice guidelines for healthcare facilities.

(Optional) About You

What is your role or perspective? Physician

May we contact you if we have questions about your nomination? Yes

Title: Instructor in Emergency Medicine and Attending Physician

Page last reviewed September 2020
Page originally created April 2020

Internet Citation: Reusable Versus Disposable PPE. Content last reviewed September 2020. Effective Health Care Program, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.

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