The added value of PVC medical devices
For over 60 years, PVC medical devices have allowed patients and healthcare professionals to access an ever-widening range of medical 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 currently accounts for about 40% of all 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.
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.
PVC medical devices are recyclable
Besides being a safe, reliable and cost-efficient material for healthcare delivery, PVC plastic is also easily recyclable. 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.
Key properties of medical PVC
Main applications for medical PVCThe two main application areas for medically approved PVC compounds are flexible containers and flexible medical tubing.
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. It is light and almost impossible to tear, making it ideal for quick and effective emergency treatment of accident victims.
The properties of PVC make it the softest and most flexible plastic to use for disposable medical devices. The softness ensures that the medical devices are as comfortable as possible—and PVC is for instance the best choice in neo-natal wards for newborn and premature babies. Healthcare professionals can also appreciate the softness when wearing medical gloves. Moreover, PVC-based medical devices are noiseless and prevent odours from escaping, thereby providing extra comfort and hygiene.
Flexible containers include containers for blood, urine continence and ostomy products and containers for intravenous solution-giving sets.
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.
Other PVC healthcare applicationsPVC is used for a wide range of other healthcare applications. Here a few examples:
IV infusion sets
Surgical & examination gloves
PVC coated mattress covers
More medical PVC products:
- Blood and plasma transfusion sets
- Blood vessels for artificial kidneys
- "Artificial skin" in emergency burns treatment
- Containers for intravenous solution giving sets
- Container for urine continence and ostomy products
- Inflatable splints
- Shatter-proof bottles and jars
- Protective sheeting and tailored covers
- Dosage packs for pharmaceuticals and medicines
Have you ever wondered why there is much plastic in hospitals?
The Curious Patient wants to know the purpose of all the plastic that surrounds him in the hospital room. Watch the funny animation video for the answer.
PVC enabled a revolution in healthcarePVC 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.