Medical Waste Disposal: Best Practices for Doctor’s Offices. Physician offices carry the same risk of exposure to potentially infectious diseases as hospitals or other medical environments. However, unlike larger facilities that have a large staff to address medical waste, a doctor’s office size is smaller with fewer people dedicated to the topic of medical waste. When you add that each state has specific laws and requirements for medical waste that must be complied with along with federal laws, the potential risk of noncompliance in a doctor’s office increases, along with the risk of exposure to disease states.
Attention to detail for medical waste is critical in a doctor’s office as anything that has been involved in the treatment of a patient must be handled with care and caution and cannot be disposed of as regular trash. The importance of creating a “best practices” guideline in a doctor’s office will help to ensure that staff, patients, the community and the environment remain safe.
Due to the various state laws for medical waste, many doctor’s offices make use of a licensed professional medical waste disposal company. These companies understand and maintain up-to-date information on all of the individual state and federal rules, can supply the appropriate containers and staff training so that the physician and employees can focus on helping their patients.
Medical waste falls into a number of categories, and each type requires specific handling and containers. State laws require leak-proof, puncture-proof sealable bags and sturdy, sealable containers to ensure that none of the contents can be released. Containers must be easily transported without falling over or spilling and must comply with state laws regarding storage duration, location, and environment.
Proper treatment and disposal of medical waste requires that it be labeled and packaged according to the individual state law. Since there are different types of medical waste, the labeling and packaging also differs. These requirements are used by the medical waste disposal company to ensure that the individual containers are taken to the appropriate disposal plant and treated according to the guidelines set for the medical waste type. The labels identify whether a medical waste is infectious, pathology waste, biohazardous, sharps waste, or chemotherapy waste. For sharps, the requirement includes being placed in a puncture-resistant, leak proof bag prior to being placed in a container and only filled ¾ of the way full to avoid injury.
The generator of medical waste is held accountable in what is known as “cradle-to-grave.” This means that even when the medical waste is picked up and leaves the location, the location that generated the medical waste is responsible for ensuring it is treated and safely disposed of. Keeping and maintaining detailed documentation and paperwork protects the doctor’s office. Each state has their own requirements for the types of documentation and the duration that it must be kept, as well as potential auditing. Some states required that the containers have additional documentation that accompanies the containers. Professional medical waste disposal companies provide the documentation to the generator that assists in ensuring that the medical waste was transported, treated and disposed of according to state and federal laws.
Even if a physician’s office complies with all of the other rules, human error can overturn the efforts with potential injuries and risk of infectious disease exposure. Each state has specific OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) guidelines for the protection of staff and patients, which includes a requirement of a training plan for all individuals in the office. A standard training plan will often include, but is not limited to:
• Definitions of the medical waste and regulatory requirements for each type.
• Biosafety levels
• Required use of PPE (personal protective equipment)
• Signs, labels, containers for each type of waste.
• Procedures for disposal of medical waste of each type.
• Good personal hygiene.
• Techniques for sterilization and disinfection.
• Proper container storage and locations.
• Safe work practices.
• Knowledge of emergency procedures in case of exposure.
• Contact names/organizations for a medical waste exposure or leak.
• Sharps injury log.
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