Dynamics between disposable and reusable segments affect expansion of disposable drapes and gowns markets

The market for disposable surgical drapes and gowns in Europe has seen steady growth in the recent past owing to the high standards of infection control enforced by the new European Union Medical Device Directive (MDD) and EU regulations. While penetration rates are not as high as those in the United States, they have been increasing gradually throughout Europe.

New analysis from Frost & Sullivan, reveals that the disposable surgical drapes and gowns industry generated revenues totalling USD 419.0 million in 2003. Total market revenues are expected to reach USD 608.1 million in 2010.

"The adoption rates of disposables vary significantly among member states of the European Union due to different concerns about infection control, product usage tradition, natural resources, cost and environmental concerns," notes Vaishnavi Ananthanarayanan, Industry Analyst at Frost & Sullivan. "While the demand for drapes and gowns remains relatively stable, the dynamics between the disposable and reusable segments is a key influence in the industry."

Increasing awareness on the need for better infection control - particularly with respect to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) and hepatitis B - has drawn attention toward providing improved bacterial barriers. Due to their patient protecting properties, drapes and gowns are now considered to be medical devices that have to comply with the MDD specifications.

This has given non-woven technology a boost. Non-woven fabrics have excellent liquid resistance, tensile strength and hydrophobic/hydrophilic properties and are, therefore, highly suitable for surgical drapes and gowns. In the meantime, the use of traditional cotton and cotton-polyester mixed textiles has been decreasing since these fabrics fail to meet the requirements of the new standards.

The choice, then, has been reduced to single-use products and 'high-tech' reusable products for most healthcare purchasers. However, studies show that the microbial penetration resistance of single-use drapes and gowns is much superior to that of reusable drapes and gowns - both traditional and 'high-tech'.

Another factor in the reusable/disposable dynamics is pricing. Reusable drapes and gowns have a relatively higher initial cost but can be used between 50 and 100 times. Still, they involve other overhead and logistics costs such as sterilisation and laundering. Thus, when total costs are considered, the disposable products tend to prove less expensive than the reusable alternatives.

Overall, there has undoubtedly been a general trend in developed countries toward disposable products for the remarkable balance of safety and comfort they offer.

Participants in the disposable surgical drapes and gowns market need to focus on end-user education to benefit from this trend. Providing clear product and cost benefits to all end users from the surgeons and staff to the infection control personnel and the purchase or procurement departments is necessary to accelerate demand.

"Maintaining good customer relations and, perhaps, partnering with custom prepared trays (CPT) companies are likely to provide a steady base against the threat of the growing CPT market," observes Ms. Ananthanarayanan. "Viable mergers and acquisitions can also be vital to market share growth," she adds.

The major focus for companies manufacturing and marketing disposable surgical drapes and gowns should be to achieve long-term contracts with large institutions. Along with specialisation and core competency, this would help create a strong brand name, which could potentially prevent the users reverting to reusable products.

The highly fragmented European market also calls for a strong supply chain management to help obtain regional coverage. Low levels of penetration in the European disposable drapes and gowns market have been attracting foreign companies. Domestic participants must, therefore, move quickly to take advantage of their expertise in the regional regulations, languages, buying culture and proximity of production site to grow through geographic expansion.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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