Reducing Plastics in Temperature Measurement

The thermometer is one of the most used clinical devices in hospitals today. Used in every hospital, in every ward on every patient every day, thermometers are an essential piece of equipment. Temperature measurement is a core diagnostic procedure, one of the main observations healthcare professionals need to make clinical decisions.

There is a variety of medical-grade thermometers available in the market, however, many traditional contact thermometers (tympanic, axilla, rectal, etc.) which use vast amounts of single use plastics in hospitals. With many hospitals making efforts to reduce hospital plastic waste we can see how making small changes to just one device can have a significant impact.

Why Do Contact Thermometers Use So Much Plastic?

Common contact thermometers used in hospitals include tympanic, axilla, oral or rectal. Each of these methods of temperature measurement requires the device to make contact with areas of the body that pose significant infection risks. For example, a tympanic thermometer requires the probe to be placed within the ear canal. Infectious microbes or bodily fluids on the probe may pass from the device into the body or vice versa. As devices are used on multiple patients the risk of cross-contamination is high.

Whilst healthcare professionals can disinfect the device itself, it is difficult to ensure the infection risk is completely removed from cleaning alone, particularly in a hospital setting where one device is used on multiple patients. Therefore, all contact thermometers require plastic consumables in the form of single-use plastic disposable probe covers to help reduce the risk of cross-infection. However, this means a vast amount of plastic waste is generated. It is estimated the NHS uses 133,000 tonnes of plastic waste in hospitals every year in the UK.

If we look solely at the waste produced through temperature measurement, one 900 bed hospital takes up to 3 million temperature readings every year. This means 3 million probe covers used every year; to put this into perspective this is about the same volume as a double-decker bus.

Sustainability - Image of Double Decker bus showing amount of plastic caps

We must also bear in mind that used thermometer probe covers are classed as contaminated waste. Therefore, this material must be disposed of carefully, often through incineration.  This is a costly process, in fact, the yearly total cost of waste reported by 69% of NHS Trusts was £33.3 million[1].

How Can We Reduce Plastic Waste in Temperature Measurement?

In order to mitigate against the infection risk posed by contact thermometers, healthcare professionals must use some form of single-use plastic consumable. Therefore, the only way to reduce single use plastics in temperature measurement is for hospitals to move to more sustainable clinical grade non-contact thermometers.

Non-contact thermometers such as TRITEMP™, never make contact with the patient. There is no risk of cross-infection from the device and no single-use plastic consumables are required.

To meet the goals set out in their For a Greener NHS campaign, the NHS has promised to introduce novel technology which will help increase sustainability, reduce plastic waste in hospitals and reduce their carbon footprint[2]. By upgrading to innovative medically graded non-contact thermometers hospitals eliminate the need for millions of single-use plastic probe covers every year.

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