When it comes to medical applications, biocompatible and long-lived materials are essential for the health and well-being of patients. The characteristics that make fluoropolymers, a type of PFAS material, valuable in a wide range of applications – chemical inertness and durability – are what make them good for multiple uses in healthcare, too.
In treatment areas, surgical gowns and drapes use fluorinated polymers for their contamination-resistant properties, and some wall and floor coverings employ fluoropolymers to allow for aggressive cleaning to help reduce potential sources of infection. While these are the easy-to-see applications, fluoropolymers have other uses that are not as easily identifiable. These include:
- Implantable medical devices, like vascular grafts, which can replace damaged vessels. Stent grafts are used to repair cardiac issues, such as aortic aneurisms or holes in the cardiac septum. Surgical meshes made of fluoropolymers are also used for repairing hernias. The durability and bio-compatibility of implants made with fluoropolymers can reduce the risk or frequency of the implant having to be replaced.
- Fluoropolymer heart patches that are used for cardiac reconstructions when it’s critical to minimize issues associated with tissue attachment.
- Catheter tubes used in a variety of procedures where their inertness, low coefficient of friction and cell adhesion are needed.
- Sterile container filters, needle retrieval systems, tracheostomies, catheter guide wire for laparoscopy and inhaler canister coatings.
The benefits of using fluoropolymer materials are multifold, according to research from PlasticsEurope, an association of plastics manufacturers. The risk of cross contamination and potential for resulting medical complications can be reduced; the lifespan of implants can be increased, reducing the risk of failure and need for replacement; cell adhesion can be promoted without adverse reactions, improving treatment results; catheters can clog less often, requiring less frequent replacement; and dosing can be more consistent, helping to improve the effectiveness and safety of drugs.
While some alternative materials might match selected properties of fluoropolymers, the total combination of properties of fluoropolymers makes them ideal for many medical uses. The risk of equipment failure, need of early replacement, cross-contamination and other unwanted consequences could increase without fluoropolymers contributing to better patient outcomes.