Sustainable Purchasing Practices: A Comparison of Single-use and Reusable Pulse Oximeters in the Emergency Department

Juliana Duffy, Jonathan E. Slutzman, Cassandra L. Thiel, Meghan Landes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Delivering healthcare requires significant resources and creates waste that pollutes the environment, contributes to the climate crisis, and harms human health. Prior studies have generally shown durable, reusable medical devices to be environmentally superior to disposables, but this has not been investigated for pulse oximetry probes. Objective: Our goal was to compare the daily carbon footprint of single-use and reusable pulse oximeters in the emergency department (ED). Methods: Using a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), we analyzed greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from pulse oximeter use in an urban, tertiary care ED, that sees approximately 150 patients per day. Low (387 uses), moderate (474 uses), and high use (561 uses), as well as cleaning scenarios, were modelled for the reusable oximeters and compared to the daily use of single-use oximeters (150 uses). We calculated GHG emissions, measured in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents (kgCO2e), across all life cycle stages using life-cycle assessment software and the ecoinvent database. We also carried out an uncertainty analysis using Monte Carlo methodology and calculated the break-even point for reusable oximeters. Results: Per day of use, reusable oximeters produced fewer greenhouse gases in low-, moderate-, and high-use scenarios compared to disposable oximeters: 3.9 kgCO2e, 4.9 kgCO2e, 5.7 kgCO2e vs 23.4 kgCO2e, respectively). An uncertainty analysis showed there was no overlap in emissions, and a sensitivity analysis found reusable oximeters only need to be used 2.3 times before they match the emissions created by a single disposable oximeter. Use phases associated with the greatest emissions varied between oximeters, with the cleaning phase of reusables responsible for the majority of its GHG emissions (99%) compared to the production phases of the single-use oximeter (74%). Conclusion: Reusable pulse oximeters generated fewer greenhouse gas emissions per day of use than their disposable counterparts. Given that the pulse oximeter is an ubiquitous piece of medical equipment used in emergency care globally, carbon emissions could be significantly reduced if EDs used reusable rather than single-use, disposable oximeters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1034-1042
Number of pages9
JournalWestern Journal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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