For over 70 years, PVC medical devices have allowed patients and healthcare professionals to access an ever-widening range of healthcare applications for screening, diagnosis, treatment and care, with optimal technical performance, safety and comfort in use.
Vinyl (another word for PVC) offers excellent durability, chemical resistance, low maintenance costs and affordability, which have made the plastic material a top choice when it comes to flooring, wall covering and other key elements of hygienic healthcare facilities.
Thanks to these features, the polymer is the single most used polymer for plastics-based medical devices used in hospitals. As one of the most versatile materials available, vinyl is also used extensively in the healthcare sector for cables for telecommunications, pipes for drinking water and sewage, energy-saving windows and a range of other products.
Where is PVC used in healthcare?
Safe DEHP-free plasticisers available for medical applications
In order to make the PVC material soft and flexible, plasticisers (US: plasticizers) are added. As all medical devices, PVC medical equipment with any plasticiser is subject to stringent pre- and post-market control and evaluation procedures to ensure safety and performance. A wide range of plasticisers are now included in the European Pharmacopoeia, which sets Europe’s legal and scientific standards to delivering high quality medicines in Europe and beyond.
Applications of medical PVC
PVC is used in a wide variety of medical devices and other healthcare applications.
PVC is used to make blood bags and other non-breakable containers, which are crucial in today’s healthcare. Soft PVC is considered the material of choice for these kinds of devices. In fact, PVC is the only material that meet the strict requirements of blood bags. The polymer ensures storage of red blood cells for up to 49 days, which is crucial for the blood supply in Europe – in particular for patients with rare blood types.
Typical requirements for medical tubing include clarity, flexibility, kink and scratch resistance, toughness, ease of bonding with common solvents or adhesives, and suitability for sterilisation. While other thermoplastics have been used to replace flexible PVC in medical tubing, none to date has been able to match the performance and advantages provided by PVC — in particular, meeting PVC medical tubing's optimum balance between kink resistance and affordability.
PVC's unsurpassed softness ensures that the medical tubing is as comfortable as possible — and PVC is for instance the best choice in neo-natal wards for newborn and premature babies.
Anesthetic and oxygen masks
Anesthetic and oxygen masks are some of the most used medical products. PVC is the ideal material for masks for anesthesia and oxygen. The plastic is transparent, which ensures good visualisation and high patient safety. Comfort is provided by PVC's unsurpassed softness. As PVC plastic can be made both rigid and soft, it is possible to manufacture masks in one single polymer. Mono-material products are key to successful recycling.
10 key reasons to choose PVC in healthcare applications
PVC medical devices are recyclable
Besides being a safe, reliable and cost-efficient material for healthcare delivery, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic is also particularly well-suited for mechanical recycling. This is due to the polymer's unique molecular structure, which allows for the formulation of products varying in rigidity and flexibility and enables PVC to maintain its structural integrity and strength through multiple recycling processes. Medical products labelled 'PVC-free' are often made from multiple layers of different polymers, complicating mechanical recycling.
Thousands of tonnes of medical plastic waste is generated daily at hospitals and healthcare facilities around the world. Studies show that only a small fraction of the waste is hazardous, which means the potential for circular economy in healthcare is huge. Moreover, medical PVC is a high grade material that is sought after by recyclers and can be recycled into a wide variety of new products.
By collecting waste for recycling instead of sending it to costly waste incineration or landfill, hospitals save money. These advantages have led to the set up of recycling schemes for PVC medical devices in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Guatemala, the UK and most recently Belgium, where the VinylPlus® Med partnership gathers hospitals, waste managers, recyclers and the PVC industry to accelerate sustainability in healthcare.
PVC enabled a revolution in healthcare
PVC medical devices were originally developed as replacements for natural rubber, glass and metal. Medical devices made of these materials required cleaning and re-sterilisation before reuse. The safety, high performance, low cost and versatility of PVC made it possible to manufacture single-use medical devices.
In the early 1960s, this resulted in a revolution within the healthcare sector. PVC medical applications can be easily sterilised while keeping their key properties such as flexibility and resistance to tears, scratches and kinks. PVC-based medical devices thus improved medical safety dramatically by reducing the risk of life-threatening and healthcare-acquired infections caused by traditional, multiple-use medical devices.