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How to Choose the Right Surgical Drapes

Here are the factors to consider

Surgical Drapes are an essential tool in every operating room. Made of either cloth, plastic, or paper, Surgical Drapes are used to help prevent the spread of infection and to protect the patient, surgical staff, and equipment in the OR. Key factors that determine whether Surgical Drapes are effective or not are: level of fluid barrier protection, flexibility to adequately cover surfaces, durability during long operations, and resistance to ignition in oxygen rich OR environments.

How Surgical Drapes work

The primary job of Surgical Drapes is to prevent patient bodily fluids from contaminating equipment, tables, and the healthcare personnel in the room during surgery. They also help avoid the patient's surgical site from being contaminated with their own skin flora or other microorganisms. In order to maintain a sterile surgical area, various types of Surgical Drapes are hung or laid around the patient and over nearby surfaces. They act as a barrier to any fluid spray that occurs during the operation and help ensure a sterile environment.

The question is, with many Surgical Drape options to choose from, which is the best choice for your facility or specific procedure?

ANSI/AAMI protection levels for Surgical Drapes

Similar to Surgical Gowns, the most important factor to consider when choosing Surgical Drapes is determining what level of protection is necessary for the procedure. The FDA recognizes the standards provided by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Association of the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI). These categories are:

  • Level 1: Provides a slight barrier to small amounts of fluid penetration for minimal risk situations
    • Examples: Basic care, standard hospital medical unit
  • Level 2: Provides a barrier to larger amounts of fluid penetration through splatter and some fluid exposure through soaking in low risk situations
    • Examples: Blood draw from a vein, suturing, intensive care units
  • Level 3: Provides a barrier to larger amounts of fluid penetration through splatter and greater fluid exposure through soaking than Level 2. Ideal for moderate risk situations
    • Examples: Inserting an IV, arterial blood draws, emergency room trauma
  • Level 4: Prevents all fluid penetration and may prevent virus penetration for up to one hour in high risk situations
    • Examples: Operations with large amounts of fluid exposure where pathogen resistance is required

The type of procedure will determine the amount of risk and fluid exposure, which is the largest factor in deciding on Surgical Drapes. The higher the risk, the more barrier protection your Surgical Drapes need to provide.

Non-Disposable or Disposable Drapes?

Once you determine the level of protection required, another factor to consider is whether to choose Disposable or Non-Disposable Surgical Drapes. According to this study published in PubMed, there is not any evidence showing a difference between Reusable and Disposable Surgical Drapes in preventing infections during orthopedic and spinal surgeries. However, if you opt for Reusable Drapes, then you must have the time and resources to properly sterilize them. Methods of sterilization recommended by the ANSI and AAMI include radiation, steam, and ethylene oxide.

Disposable Drapes, on the other hand, are single use and do not require the costs or infrastructure necessary for proper sterilization. They are sterile when they arrive from the manufacturer or distributor, you use them for a procedure, and then dispose of them. You don't have to worry about contamination due to improperly sterilized Reusable Drapes.

Other factors to remember

  • Ensure Surgical Drapes are lint free – Lint is a recognized vector for causing surgical site infections and is a medium of transport for microbes. Make sure the Surgical Drapes you use are lint free.
  • Drapes should be flame resistant – Operating rooms are rich in oxygen, so it's important to only choose Surgical Drapes that are flame and ignition resistant, to prevent fire hazards.
  • Are the Surgical Drapes flexible? – Surgical Drapes should be flexible enough to conform easily to the shape of the patient, surgical site, or operating room table.
  • Do the Surgical Drapes pass the ASTM F1670 and F1671 tests? – The CDC and FDA recognize these two tests as the definitive assessments for determining the fluid and microbial barrier properties of Surgical Drape fabrics.

There are a wide variety of options for Surgical Drapes available. Use this article as a reference to help guide your decision. For answers to your questions on how to choose the right Surgical Drapes, contact the experts at Welmed