Conference Coverage

Weighing the pros and cons of disposable duodenoscopes



Disposable duodenoscopes have one irrefutable advantage over their reusable counterparts: They definitively solve the problem of scope-related multidrug-resistant organism (MDRO) infections. Yet they also come with trade-offs, such as increased cost and medical waste, which has triggered pushback from skeptical endoscopists. How endoscopists weigh their differing concerns will ultimately determine the uptake of these devices going forward, according to Andrew S. Ross, MD, medical director for strategic growth at Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle.

“What would you pay to not have to deal with the scope infection issue at all?” Dr. Ross asked during a virtual presentation at the 2021 AGA Tech Summit sponsored by the AGA Center for GI Innovation and Technology. “I think that x-factor is going to depend [on] who you’re talking to and how much they really believe in [duodenoscope-related infection] as an issue.”

Dr. Ross explained that some endoscopists doubt the clinical relevance of duodenoscope-related MDRO infections, possibly because of a lack of direct experience.

“There still is a prevailing sentiment among some endoscopists that duodenoscope infection is really not a problem,” Dr. Ross said. “Or [they may say,]: ‘We haven’t had that issue here in our medical center, so therefore it is not a problem.’ ”

In fact, the exact magnitude of the problem remains unknown.

“In the end, we have an unquantifiable risk to patients wherever [reusable duodenoscopes] are used,” Dr. Ross said.

Just how common are scope-related MDRO infections?

According to V. Raman Muthusamy, MD, AGAF, immediate former chair of the AGA Center for GI Innovation and Technology, and director of endoscopy at the University of California, Los Angeles Health System, scope-related MDRO infections are “relatively uncommon,” but they do occur.

V. Raman Muthusamy, MD, AGAF, immediate former chair of the AGA Center for GI Innovation and Technology and director of endoscopy at UCLA Health System

Dr. V. Raman Muthusamy

MDRO infections are generally linked with contaminated endoscopes, but duodenoscopes are the most common culprit because they pose a unique risk.

“Traditionally, when outbreaks have occurred [with nonduodenoscopes], it has usually been due to a breach in the reprocessing protocol,” Dr. Muthusamy said in an interview. “But with duodenoscopes, we’ve found that that does not appear to be necessary, and that in many cases there are no identified breaches, and yet there are still outbreaks.”

Dr. Muthusamy, the first endoscopist to test a disposable duodenoscope in a human patient, noted that it’s challenging to definitively prove infection from a reusable scope. Citing an Executive Summary from the Food and Drug Administration, he said, “We know it’s happened 300-400 times over the past decade or so,” with infection rates peaking in 2014-2016 and steadily declining since then.

Approximately 5% of reprocessed duodenoscopes harbor pathogenic bacteria, according to Dr. Muthusamy, but the rate of infection is significantly lower.

“[The use of a contaminated duodenoscope] doesn’t mean a patient will actually get sick ... but it does mean the potential exists, obviously,” he said. “It just shows that these devices are hard to clean and a fraction of people have the potential of becoming ill. It’s our goal to improve on those numbers, and really try to eliminate the risk of this problem, as best we can.”


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