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Plastic is a manufactured material that has revolutionized the healthcare industry in many ways. It is an incredibly versatile and cost-effective material that can be molded into virtually any shape or size, making it ideal for medical applications. In addition, plastics are lightweight, durable, and resistant to corrosion and water damage, making them perfect for long-term medical devices such as implants and prosthetics. They can also be produced with different colors or textures, making medical equipment easier to identify while adding aesthetic appeal. Perhaps most valuable, plastics are known for resisting bacteria growth, making them invaluable in operating rooms or other sterile environments where cross-contamination must be prevented. From medical implants to personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks and gloves, plastic is one of the most widely used materials in the healthcare industry today.
History of Plastics in Healthcare
The use of plastics in the healthcare industry dates back to the 1800s with rubber-based products such as rubber gloves and tubing. In the 1950s, polycarbonate was introduced as a more durable and cost-effective material for medical use.
Since then, medical plastics have seen significant advances in the healthcare industry. Medical devices such as stethoscopes and respirators now use polycarbonate components instead of rubber or metal parts due to plastic’s strength and ease of production. Joint replacements also use high-strength plastic components instead of metal parts. Advances in 3D printing of medical components, such as orthopedic joints and craniofacial reconstruction implants, have only further increased access to safe and durable tools for medical professionals and patients.
What is Polycarbonate?
While the term “plastics” is widely known, the word “polycarbonate” may not be as familiar to most people. So, what is polycarbonate, and why is it essential to healthcare and medicine?
Chemically, polycarbonate is a type of plastic made from bisphenol A and phosgene. It is an extremely strong yet lightweight material, making it an excellent choice for medical uses. Polycarbonate has many properties that make it suitable for medical use, including high strength, rigidity, impact resistance, heat resistance, transparency, and flame retardance.
Five Examples of How Plastics are Used in Healthcare and Medicine
Plastics are used extensively in the healthcare industry for medical packaging and components. Here are five examples of how plastics, and polycarbonates in particular, help those needing medical treatment and those working in healthcare.
1. Medical Equipment
Plastic materials such as polycarbonate can be used to construct durable, lightweight medical equipment, including IV pumps, wheelchairs, mobility scooters, and hospital beds.
2. Disposable Products
Plastics are also widely used for disposable medical products such as syringes, tubing, gloves, and personal protection equipment (PPE), which reduce the risk of cross-contamination between patients.
3. Drug Delivery Systems
Polycarbonate can be used in drug delivery systems such as transdermal patches or inhalers that provide controlled release of medication over time with minimal side effects for patients using them.
4. Packaging Solutions
Plastic packaging provides an oxygen barrier to keep medications safe and equipment sterile while moving or storing. Plastic packaging costs significantly less than other materials like glass or metal containers.
5. Diagnostic Tools
Plastics are also essential components in diagnostic tools like MRI machines which use strong magnets to generate detailed images inside a patient’s body without radiation exposure. The plastic parts help protect these powerful magnetic fields from interfering with hospital electronics outside the machine itself.
Plastics Lead the Way in Healthcare
Plastics have revolutionized the healthcare industry by providing a cost-effective and durable material for various uses. Polycarbonate has been particularly useful due to its strength and resistance factors. The potential for future advancements in plastic use in the healthcare and medical industries is exciting and will certainly lead to further improvements in patient care.