The healthcare industry follows several best practices to ensure the delivery of the highest standards of patient care. Sterilization of medical devices is one of these best practices because the use of unsterilized devices can result in infections which can be life-threatening in some cases. Therefore, several regulatory bodies in the healthcare domain enforce stringent compliance requirements to guarantee the safety of medical devices. Sterilization measures for these devices are to be used during manufacturing as well as between procedures. The medical industry has taken up intensive medical device sterilization research to establish the best techniques for the process. Let us know all about these techniques:
- Steam Sterilization: Steam sterilization involves the use of high temperatures and pressures to eliminate the microorganisms that breed on the surface of the instruments. The technique is best suited for devices made of heat-resistant materials such as steel. It enables quick sterilization, taking only 3-15 minutes to complete though several hours are needed to cool and dry the instruments after the steam sterilization. The second stage is extremely important because any moisture left on the device surface can result in corrosion and impair the functioning of the devices. The technique is unsuitable for equipment with plastic and electronic components.
- Dry Heat Sterilization: Dry heating sterilization is a more sophisticated technique that requires higher temperatures and takes longer as compared to steam sterilization. However, it is highly effective for killing the biological contaminants as well as their spores. It is suitable for instruments made of metal and glass. Another benefit of this technique is that it prevents moisture-induced damage as it uses hot air rather than steam to sterilize the devices. Vaccine vials are sterilized with this method before being filled up with the liquid.
- Radiation Sterilization: As the name suggests, this technique uses gamma or electron beam (E-beam) radiation to kill any microorganisms on the device surface. It is best suited for single-use devicessuch as catheters, implants and syringes. Also, radiation works effectively for dense materials and can penetrate product packaging too. Another benefit of this method is that it is less time-consuming. However, it should not be used for heat-sensitive plastics and other materials. Moreover, it can result in some cosmetic issues such as discoloration of the devices.
- Ethylene Oxide Sterilization: Another widely used sterilization technique for medical instruments is ethylene oxide sterilization. It is a chemical process that involves the exposure to the ethylene oxide gas, which reacts with the enzymes, proteins and DNA to prevent cell division and kill the microorganisms that live on the device surface. Unlike the other techniques, it is suited for devices made of delicate materials and those with plastic and electronic components. The gas is capable of penetrate small spaces inside devices and also works for instruments packaged in plastic. On the downside, the gas is highly reactive at low temperatures and toxic to humans, which makes the process complicated. It is also a time consuming process as compared to the other techniques.
The choice of the sterilization technique is based on the kind of material that the device is made of and the standards being followed in the industry. It has to b ensured that the sterilization technique does not have any detrimental impact on the quality or integrity of the equipment.