PVC Healthcare Applications

PVC has made it possible for a patients and healthcare professionals to access a wide range of medical applications with optimal technical performance, safety, and comfort in use.

PVC is commonly used in a wide range of medical applications for screening, diagnosis, treatment and care, as well as in the creation of safe healthcare environments.
By adding plasticisers, it can be made with unparalleled softness and flexibility, benefiting patient comfort and hospital care. In addition to their versatile nature, PVC healthcare applications can easily be sterilised while keeping their key properties, such as resistance (to tears, scratches and kinks) and flexibility. The use of PVC in both single and multiple-use medical devices has proved indispensable in reducing the risk of life-threatening and healthcare-acquired infections.

As an example, PVC is used for floor covering in hospitals and other buildings where hygiene is paramount. PVC-based flooring is much easier to keep clean and hygienic than the alternatives currently on offer. It has a very good chemical resistance, which means it lasts longer under the use of aggressive products for cleaning and disinfecting in hospitals.

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Single-use applications

Over 50 years ago, medical products containing PVC were originally developed as replacements for natural rubber and glass. Medical devices made of these traditional materials required cleaning and re-sterilisation before re-use.

The low cost, safety, high performance and versatility of the PVC material made it possible to manufacture single-use devices. In the early sixties this resulted in a revolution within the healthcare sector. In fact, PVC medical applications can be easily sterilised while keeping their key properties, such as flexibility and resistance to tears, scratches and kinks. Therefore PVC based devices improved medical safety by reducing the risk of life threatening and healthcare acquired infections caused by traditional and multiple use medical devices.

Over the years, PVC has proved to be a safe, performing and cost-efficient material for healthcare delivery and is now the most widely used plastic in pre-sterilised single-use medical applications. As a result, today almost 30% of all plastic-based disposable medical devices used in hospitals are made from PVC. PVC devices are easier to sterilise, transparent, chemically stable, cost-effective, easy to process using different technologies and have long shelf-life stability.

The two main application areas for medically approved PVC compounds are flexible containers and tubing.

Flexible containers

PVC is used worldwide to make blood bags and other non-breakable containers used in medicine. Those are crucial and widely used in modern healthcare services every day. Soft PVC is considered the clear material of choice for these kinds of devices. It is light and almost impossible to tear, making it ideal for quick and effective emergency treatment of accident victims.

The properties of PVC make it the softest and most flexible plastic to use for the production of disposable medical devices. Its softness makes it the best choice in neo-natal wards for new and premature babies, to ensure they are as comfortable as possible.  They are noiseless and prevent odours from escaping, thereby providing extra comfort and hygiene. Healthcare professionals can also appreciate this softness property when wearing medical gloves.

Flexible containers include:

  • Containers for blood, urine continence and ostomy products
  • Containers for intravenous solution-giving sets

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Flexible Tubing

Typical requirements for tubing used in medical devices include clarity, flexibility, kink resistance, toughness, scratch resistance, ease of bonding with common solvents or adhesives, and suitability for sterilisation. While other thermoplastic polymers have been used to replace flexible PVC in medical tubing, none to date has been able to match the performance and advantages provided by PVC. Alternatives have so far not succeeded in meeting the optimal low cost and kink resistance levels that PVC flexible tubing offers.

Tubing includes:

  • Blood taking and blood giving sets
  • Catheters and cannulae
  • Heart and lung bypass sets
  • Tubing for dialysis, endotracheal, feeding and pressure monitoring

Other PVC applications in healthcare

PVC’s very versatile properties make it suitable for a broad range of other applications in healthcare settings.

  • PVC floors

Plasticised PVC floors can be found in hospitals all around the world. The smooth, tough surface of the upper wear layer prevents dust and dirt from building up and stops microbes from breeding, keeping the rooms sterile and therefore playing a crucial role in preventing infections. The robust surfaces of soft PVC reduce the need for cleaning and the use of polish. They are a natural choice in hospitals and clinics where durability and low maintenance are vital. PVC floors can last for up to 20 years of intensive use. These comfortable, safe and stylish floors are also inexpensive and therefore affordable for many hospitals around the world.

  • PVC wall coverings

Soft PVC wall coverings are also a clear favourite in many hospitals thanks to their aesthetic, hygiene and cost-effective qualities. Today’s PVC wall coverings are attractive, available in grades of thickness, suited to heavy traffic and will stand up to years of heavy use. Not only are these wall coverings easily cleaned, they are also easily repaired should damage occur. PVC wall coverings are also fire-retardant, a definite advantage in healthcare settings. The in-service life of these products can easily reach 20 years or more with minimum maintenance.

PVC also offers specific advantages in other healthcare applications such as:

  • Surgical and examination gloves
  • Inflatable splints
  • Inhalation masks
  • Blister packs for pills and tablets
  • PVC coated mattress covers – hygienic and easy to clean
  • Easily fabricated oxygen tents, relying on the welding characteristics of PVC combined with good transparency
  • Water and drainage pipes
  • Fire-resistant cabling in electrical and telecommunications equipment

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PVC properties

PVC has made it possible for healthcare professionals and patients to access a wide range of healthcare applications with optimal technical performance, safety, and comfort in use and cost-efficiency levels.

  • Safety
    Over the years, the use of PVC in healthcare applications has been proven to be safe through pre-and post-marketing evaluation and surveillance systems. PVC has made it possible for patients and healthcare professionals to access a wide range of medical applications with optimal technical performance, safety and excellent comfort in use. PVC is commonly used in a wide range of medical applications for screening, diagnosis, treatment and care, as well as in the creation of safe healthcare environments.

  • Sterilisability
    PVC has been crucial in reducing and preventing healthcare-acquired infections. The absence of sources of infection is a fundamental requirement in medical product applications. PVC medical applications can be easily sterilised using such methods as steam, radiation or ethylene oxide, while keeping their key properties, such as flexibility and resistance to tears, scratches and kinks.

  • Chemical stability
    Materials used in medical applications must be capable of accepting or conveying a variety of liquids without themselves undergoing any significant changes in composition or properties.

  • Biocompatibility
    Whenever plastics are used in direct contact with the patient’s tissue or blood, a high degree of compatibility is essential between the tissue/blood and the material. PVC is characterised by high biocompatibility, and this can be increased further by appropriate surface modification.

  • Clarity and transparency
    Because of its physical properties, products made from PVC can be formulated with excellent transparency to allow for continual monitoring of fluid flow. If colour-coded application is needed, virtually any colour can be created.

  • Flexibility, durability and dependability
    Not only does PVC offer the flexibility necessary for applications such as blood bags or intravenous (IV) tubing, but it can also be relied upon for its strength and durability, even under changing temperatures and conditions. These properties are essential to provide convenience in use by healthcare professionals and performance thereby benefiting patient comfort and quality hospital care.

  • Compatibility
    PVC is compatible with virtually all pharmaceutical products in healthcare facilities today. It also has excellent water and chemical resistance, helping to keep solutions sterile.

  • Resistance to chemical stress cracking
    PVC’s resilience helps ensure that medical products function consistently, for extended use, in demanding applications. Ease of processing means that PVC can easily be extruded to make IV tubing, thermoformed to make “blister” packaging, or blow moulded to make hollow rigid containers. This versatility is a major reason why PVC is the material of choice for medical product and packaging designers.

  • Low cost
    Since the 1960’s, the use of PVC in healthcare applications and in medical devices has played its part in allowing the broader population access to safe, high-quality, affordable healthcare, as well as supporting governments in their efforts to ensure the smart use of resources and innovative, quality and financially sustainable healthcare systems.
    PVC has very low manufacturing costs and provides excellent durability and long-lasting performance with low maintenance costs.

  • Recyclability
    PVC is an extremely resource efficient material through its entire life-cycle. It provides excellent durability and long-lasting performance with low maintenance costs. PVC waste is highly recyclable and can be recovered as a valued raw material to make other secondary products.