Daan Hoek

UV based technology in the Medical World; Hazards and Potential

The disinfecting effect of UV technology was already discovered in the late 1800s, in 1903 Nils Finsen even won the Nobel Prize for it. Since then, UV technology light has been widely used in many different industries. For example, UV technology is used in down-flow cabinets in laboratories to disinfect the work surface, and forensic institutes use UV technology to disinfect surfaces and/or release DNA. But if the technology is so effective and has been used successfully in other industries for more than 100 years, why hasn't it been embraced by the medical industry yet? In this article you will learn more about the opportunities of UV technology in the medical field.

Als UV-C technologie zo effectief is, waarom wordt het dan nog niet omarmt door de medische industrie? In dit artikel leer je meer over de valkuilen en kansen van UV-C inde medische wereld.

Pros of UV technology light

Compared with other methods currently in use (chemicals, disinfecting wipes, washing machines, etc), UV tech has some distinct advantages:

  • Environmentally friendly: no use of chemicals or water;
  • Fast disinfection cycle: it only takes a few seconds;
  • Effective against the entire spectrum of micro-organisms;
  • Personnel are not exposed to harmful chemicals;
  • There is no need to apply complicated methods or comply with a strict cleaning schedule. All that is needed is a simple and consistent disinfection cycle.

As Michiel mentioned in a previous blog post, pathogens are spread through equipment (among other things), meaning that there is vast potential for the application of UV technology in the healthcare industry.

Hazards and challenges

But what are the hazards and challenges of implementing UV based technology in healthcare? The challenges faced by UV technology in the medical industry include the following:

  • There are no standards for UV based disinfection in the medical industry, so healthcare institutions are not sure how to test products;
  • Current disinfection standards, such as EN-14885 are not applicable to UV tech. These standards are suitable for chemicals, and have variables such as contact time and immersion;
  • There are many unregulated products on the market whose claims do not appear to be well-founded. Floris already wrote a good blog post on what to look out for when buying a product;
  • Direct exposure to UV is dangerous for people, so products must meet high safety requirements , as Noor wrote earlier;
  • Many hospitals’ cleaning practices focus 100% on ‘old’ products, such as steam, wipes and chemicals. With such ingrained habits, it may be hard to convince people to start using innovative methods.

None of these challenges is insurmountable. If healthcare institutions would only research the UV devices they purchase, they’d find it quite easy to implement said devices in theirroutines. The emphasis should be on checking that the product has the right CE mark, sufficient clinical validation and product safety tests. We also know from reliable sources that the Dutch standardisation body is in the process of drafting a standard for devices based on UV technology.

Potential presented by UV technology

Although we now know that there are still several challenges to be overcome in order to ensure that UV based tech is broadly applied in healthcare facilities worldwide, current market developments also present us with many opportunities. Not only for companies that offer UV technology solutions, but also for healthcare institutions that want to make their processes more efficient, disinfect their surfaces in an environmentally conscious manner and save costs.

According to Yale University, the healthcare industry in America is single-handedly responsible for 10% of the country's total emissions[1]. A comparison with a different country shows that the American healthcare industry emits more carbon dioxide than the entire United Kingdom[2]. So, if hospitals switched to UV technology based disinfection systems, a country’s carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced significantly. It should also be noted that with technology based on UV disinfection, the costs per disinfection cycle are much lower than those incurred by current methods; after all, all that is needed is some electricity, and there will be no need for gallons of water, chemicals or other non-food consumables. Furthermore, it takes between 10 and 40 minutes to disinfect medical equipment with chemicals, whereas a UV tech disinfection device will disinfect the same equipment in mere seconds. Which in turn allows hospitals to use their equipment much more efficiently.

The potential for disinfection based on UV:

  • Much faster than current methods, so hospitals can use their equipment more efficiently;
  • With UV technology, costs per disinfection cycle are much lower;
  • Technology based on UV is environmentally friendly; no water and/or chemicals wasted.

Daan Hoek