Innovation in surgical and medical exams gloves: How to choose the right glove for the right task

The shift of total joints and orthopedic cases from the hospital to the ASC is becoming more predominant based on several driving factors such as increased surgeon autonomy, favorable outpatient payer policies, advances in medical technology, and improved health literacy among the patient population. Surgeons who were initially undecided are now looking for ways to capitalize on this shift. However, with all the critical requirements to establish a successful outpatient total joint program, many are left wondering where to begin.

It’s not uncommon for healthcare personnel to believe “a glove is a glove.” They perceive all gloves and suppliers as the same. That is, until they realize their gloves have pinholes, rips or tears — or that their supplier is out of stock. 

With a deeper understanding of surgical and medical exam gloves, and of glove suppliers, it becomes clear that a glove is not just a glove, and that glove suppliers are not all the same. 

To learn more about some of the differences among both, Becker’s ASC Review recently spoke with two category leaders from Owens & Minor (O&M), which manufactures the best-in- class HALYARD* product portfolio:

  • Patricia Gooden, global senior product manager
  • Greg Metcalf, senior director, gloves and apparel

Focus on selecting the right glove for the right task
The HALYARD* glove portfolio includes medical exam gloves, which represent a significant portion of the glove market. In the medical exam glove segment, “there are lots of different types of gloves made from different materials,” Mr. Metcalf said.

The four key materials are natural rubber latex, nitrile, vinyl and polychloroprene. “Each of these have different attributes, strengths, weaknesses and, when subjected under different stresses, they perform differently,” Mr. Metcalf said.

O&M specializes in nitrile for exam gloves, based on the view that it has the most balanced properties, the most affordable cost and doesn’t pose the risk of allergies that natural latex does. That’s why nitrile has become the number-one glove material in healthcare. “The key about exam gloves is that not all gloves are made the same and gloves have different purposes,” Mr. Metcalf said. Most medical gloves are categorized as:

  • General purpose gloves that are focused on tactile sensitivity as opposed to strength.
  • House-wide gloves, the workhorse of the medical industry, are used across healthcare facilities and utilized to prevent exposure to common chemicals, chemotherapy agents and various infectious materials.
  • Specialty gloves feature specialized designs or proprietary formulations that deliver enhanced protections. They’re typically used in areas such as oncology or in decontamination.

Another variable with exam gloves is their thickness. Thinner gloves, Mr. Metcalf explained, are designed for less rigorous tasks, with low to moderate fluid exposure. Thicker gloves are made for more rigorous tasks and higher levels of fluid exposure. The thickest gloves are for the most demanding tasks.

According to Mr. Metcalf, “we have made selecting the right glove easier with the company’s trademarked glove colors:

  • Lavender and blue gloves are for general purpose activities.
  • Gray gloves are for procedures with low-to-high risk of exposure to fluid and abrasion.
  • Purple gloves provide maximum barrier protection.

Picking the right glove(s) requires matching the glove to the task
With both surgical gloves and medical exam gloves, there are multiple options to choose from. “Not all gloves are made the same, and gloves have different purposes,” Mr. Metcalf said. When choosing the proper glove, Mr. Metcalf argued “the key is understanding the task at hand and what elements you’re exposed to so you can find the right level of protection, to know whether you need a thinner or a thicker glove.” He added, “selecting the right glove for the right task not only helps ensure the right level of protection but also saves money,” since the cost of the glove is related to the thickness. If a thinner glove can be used for a task, the cost will likely be less. Ms. Gooden added, “with surgical gloves, there is not one-size-fits-all.”

Why surgical gloves are so important
In hospitals, health systems and ASCs, “surgical gloves are a critical item for providers,” Ms. Gooden said. “Surgical gloves are not a commodity. For surgeons and surgical teams, gloves are an extension of their hands. They are like surgical instruments.”

Through extensive research with surgeons and surgical teams, O&M has found that clinicians want gloves that contour to their hands like a second skin; they want to forget they are wearing gloves. “It’s all about tactile sensitivity and comfort,” Ms. Gooden observed, “and quality is extremely important, because they can’t have a glove that fails in the middle of a procedure.”

Rebranding to HALYARD* and extending the surgical glove portfolio
The most exciting news is that O&M is rebranding its MediChoice® surgical gloves to the HALYARD* brand, effective November 2021, and also expanding its surgical glove portfolio from five to eight styles. “O&M has over a half century of innovation in perioperative products, including market- leading surgical gowns and drapes, masks, and sterilization wrap. HALYARD* is the only brand of surgical gloves built on a legacy of operating room expertise and service. We really know this space. HALYARD* can now protect surgical teams all the way to their fingertips,” said Ms. Gooden.

HALYARD* Surgical Glove offerings are different
“We will be offering a streamlined surgical glove portfolio, with a mix designed to meet the needs of a wide range of surgical teams and specialties, with consistent fit, comfort and protection for every procedure,” Ms. Gooden said. The HALYARD* surgical glove portfolio will cover needs ranging from general surgery to high-risk procedures in orthopedic trauma and cardiac.

The HALYARD* portfolio includes gloves in a range of different materials, including natural rubber latex but also the latest synthetic materials, such as polyisoprene and neoprene. “Having a synthetic portfolio is very important,” Ms. Gooden noted, “because many facilities are converting from - natural rubber latex to synthetics due to risk of latex allergies.” 

The HALYARD* portfolio also features a number of proprietary technologies. A technology called PI CareTM allows for the manufacturing of skin-friendly gloves. The SENSOPRENETM technology makes neoprene gloves that are accelerator- free. And Derma ShieldTM technology facilitates fast and easy donning with damp or dry hands. “These are all examples of proprietary technologies that we bring to the table,” Ms. Gooden said. In addition, the HALYARD* glove portfolio includes exam and surgical gloves that have been tested for use with chemotherapy drugs.

Through these technologies, O&M “delights surgical teams,” Ms. Gooden said, “with gloves that provide easy donning, enhanced tactile sensitivity and comfort without compromising durability. From a quality standpoint, HALYARD* Surgical Gloves are high-performing,” Ms. Gooden added. “We know that surgeons are under tremendous pressure and don’t want to worry about their gloves. They just want gloves that fit and feel like a second skin. That’s exactly what we bring to the table.”

Not all surgical and medical exam glove suppliers are the same
“Surgical gloves are not a problem until your supplier cannot get them on your hands,” Ms. Gooden said. “The threat of having to cancel surgeries [due to not having gloves] is a huge pain point. Surgical glove backorders can be catastrophic because operating rooms drive revenue for most hospitals and ASCs. That’s why providers need suppliers they can rely on.” However, many glove suppliers have encountered struggles amid the pandemic. 

“During the COVID-19 public health emergency, many suppliers have had issues maintaining supplies and service levels, and that is continuing today,” Mr. Metcalf said. “The Owens & Minor team took many actions to ensure that healthcare providers had continued access to critical Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) supplies, including medical exam gloves. The fact that HALYARD* is vertically integrated and manufactures most of its Halyard-branded product certainly helps.”

Coming through for customers during the pandemic is consistent with O&M’s history. “In terms of supply,” Mr. Metcalf said, “dependable service has always been a cornerstone. And this didn’t change during the pandemic, where we strove to maintain customers at 100 percent of their historic usage, regardless of the numerous supply chain challenges that were faced.” 

Beyond ensuring reliable supply, “it’s very important in surgical gloves to deliver the right product at the right time in the right quantities,” Ms. Gooden said. “Customers want a partner who can meet expectations, a partner who can come on site to deal with challenges and provide clinical support . . . We partner with our customers to provide clear communication and on-site support. We have a sales force that is credentialed, experienced and hospital-trained.”

Because surgical gloves are essentially a surgical instrument, and because not all medical exam gloves are the same, “the focus should be on selecting the right glove for the right task,” Mr. Metcalf said. “The key is understanding the task at hand.”

He summarized, “it’s very important to choose the right glove, but it’s also extremely important to choose the right glove supplier, since all gloves and all suppliers are not the same.”

This article was sponsored by Halyard, an Owens & Minor brand.

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