FDA Urged to Ban Medical Use of Latex Gloves
The letter says that in the FDA's 1999 explanation of reasons why it would not impose a ban on latex gloves and cornstarch, it estimated the increased cost to the healthcare industry of $64 million per year to purchase alternative products. However, Wolfe and Carome said that because so many hospitals have already made the transition, there is a bigger market and costs have significantly dropped.
In an interview, Carome said that he believes "the FDA recognizes that this is a serious problem. But pressure from the rubber industry in the late 1990s played a role." And while the FDA did list reasons for not ordering a ban, "we think their arguments are flawed."
Gina Pugliese, Vice President of the Premier Healthcare Alliance Safety Institute, affiliated with Premier purchasing alliance, says that many hospitals continue using latex because many doctors and surgeons prefer it because of its tactile sensation for specific procedures.
But other hospitals "are phasing out latex" because of those issues. "Children's hospitals are the first ones to go latex-free, as has the Cleveland Clinic."
Cost, she says, is no longer as much of a concern the two products are priced similarly. In fact, she says, only 15% of hospitals use latex. Some surgeons continue to prefer powder-free latex gloves "but there is a growing trend to non-latex, e.g. polyisoprene, though they cost twice as much."
Even if the products are more expensive, Wolfe and Carome say, studies at major medical centers that made the switch such as Geisinger indicate greatly reduced workers' compensation claims for latex-related illnesses since transitioning to powder-free latex gloves.
"These studies indicate that healthcare facilities are likely to benefit financially by transitioning to powder-free, latex-free surgeons' and patient examination gloves as the result of decreased workers' compensation claims, employee sick days, occupational health clinic visits, and early retirements due to permanent disability related to latex allergies."
Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
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