Surgical Supplies: Disposable vs Reusable

For a long time now there has been a debate as to whether reusable or disposable medical and surgical supplies are the most beneficial in medical facilities. There are always going to be pros and cons for each option, so let’s take a moment to weigh the two and see the differences between them. 

But first, it is necessary to establish what is meant by disposable and reusable.

What is Disposable Medical Equipment? 

This refers to devices that are only used during a single procedure and with only one patient. After the procedure is completed, the device is then disposed of. All disposable equipment is sanitised before use (or arrives pre-sanitised) and is only usable once. 

What is Reusable Medical Equipment? 

This refers to any medical instruments that need to be reprocessed after use. This means cleaning and sanitising the equipment before it can be used again with another patient. These items can be used multiple times but must be cleaned after every use, and maintained regularly. 

As discussed previously, each of these equipment types has different pros and cons, these will be laid out below. 

Infection Control Capability

When dealing with sensitive procedures where the risk of infection is present, determining which kind of medical and surgical supplies would be beneficial is very important. All items entering tissue must be completely sterilised while non-critical items that only touch the skin do not. Using single-use devices for invasive procedures or treatment methods is highly recommended, as these devices need to be fully sterilised before each use. Disposing of the device and obtaining a new one for the next procedure significantly reduces the risk of infection among patients. 

Every device needs to be sterilised after every use, including reusable devices. This is to ensure there is minimal risk of infection, however by using reusable devices, there is no excess waste by disposing of devices after each use. While some reusable devices can be reliably sterilised between uses, those that are more difficult to clean adequately should be replaced with single-use devices where possible. 

Surgery Delays

This is going to be a key point for any smaller hospitals with more limited access to sterilisation, or longer waiting periods. The more reusable medical and surgical supplies you have, the more time will be spent waiting for them to be sterilised before the next surgery. So it can make sense to try and lower the number of items that need sterilising by switching to single-use supplies instead. This can limit delays before surgeries, and delay other hold-ups due to a lack of devices. You must have stock to handle the days procedures, so having fewer items that need multiple sterilisations per day can be a lifesaver. That is why disposables are especially useful for operating theatres that handle high numbers of shorter procedures. 

Safety and Longevity 

When reprocessing a medical device, there is always the question of how many times it can be reprocessed before its longevity is compromised. It’s even possible that a device will become unworkable and cause further delays. The process of sanitising medical equipment does also introduce its surfaces to harsh chemicals which would then have the potential of coming in contact with either patients or doctors if not properly cleaned. The most dangerous part is that any issue caused by multiple reprocessing sessions will often be imperceptible, so there is little way to determine if the device’s quality has been impacted until something goes wrong. 

Natural Impact 

While on the surface, the frequent discarding of medical and surgical supplies may seem inefficient and not environmentally conscious, they have the potential to be just as, if not more, efficient than reusable items. This is because the reprocessing of reusable supplies involves the rewrapping of products, meaning that the new wrapping will be discarded after every use. These devices create continuous waste. 


At purchase, buying single-use disposables in bulk is generally going to cost more than purchasing reusable supplies instead, but for an accurate representation of the costs, it is important to consider the life-long costs of the device. Single-use items will be used once and then disposed of, the buying price is the full price of the item. Reusable devices on the other hand need frequent sterilisation and maintenance that racks up the cost over the lifetime of the device. 

Overall, what medical supplies in Australia you decide to purchase should depend on what kind of facility you operate and what kind of procedures are performed there most frequently. Some devices will benefit from being reused while others should simply be disposed of and it is up to you to make the decision based on this information. Just always be sure to consider all options before making a final decision.