UltraZonic has received a true (medical) world premiere. This Belgian company, specialized in innovative medical cleaning devices, has developed the first semi-automatic pre-cleaner for flexible endoscopes. Not the biggest luxury invention, knowing that endoscopes are popular hotbeds for several bacteria. “Due to great time pressure, staff often miss important cleaning steps. Resulting in contaminated instruments that can possibly infect the next patient. By automating the cleaning process, human cleaning errors are eliminated.” according to Nancy Steenbakkers, UltraZonic’s Founder & CEO.
‘Cleaned’ endoscopes – an underestimated threat to patient safety
Every year, thousands of patients still contract an infection during often simple procedures.
In many cases this is due to insufficiently cleaned instruments. More specifically concerning endoscopes, hospitals do not meet the main conditions for proper manual precleaning. Nine (9) out of 12 hospitals fail their test, study finds. Almost no other medical device is as difficult to clean as an endoscope, partly due to its complex design (its long, narrow channels). Flexible endoscopes which are inserted into the lung, stomach, intestines or bladder for examinations and treatments, come into contact with all kinds of bodily fluids.
Decent cleaning and disinfection between two examinations is absolutely necessary to prevent germs such as bacteria and viruses from transferring from one patient to another – all the more so now that dangerous resistant bacteria are also on the rise globally. If done incorrectly, patients could develop bladder infections and even life-threatening blood poisonings. Patients’ lives’ are in effect at stake.
UltraZonic seeks solutions: automation and traceability is key
Apart from the known cleaning struggles/ complexities, Nancy explains there is a more prominent issue causing these outbreaks. “Precleaning” steps are often performed incorrectly due to time-pressure and a lack of knowledge and/or work-enthusiasm.
A former OR-nurse for 20 years, Nancy witnessed these problems from the front row. “Up to this day, there is no control whether all steps are being performed correctly. Everything is performed manually, with only one visual check afterwards. No traceability and no guarantee whether the steps are being performed correctly. Pre-cleaning is often only carried out very briefly. Greater awareness and adequate solutions were needed as these poorly cleaned instruments posed a real-life threat for the patient”, underlines Nancy Steenbakkers.
Nancy decided to take matters into her own hands. She shared her thoughts on how the ideal cleaning should look like. Thanks to the output of her husband – UltraZonic co-founder Serge Wellens – who loves to design new devices from scratch, the UltraZonic ENDO device was born. This is the first device ever to semi-automatically clean multiple endoscopes at the same time.
UltraZonic’s pre-cleaning furniture contains sinks with programming, so that – whether you are motivated/well-educated or not – it is impossible to skip a step in the process. “In terms of time management, it is also interesting for hospitals. With the double basins, it is possible to let the device clean two endoscopes at the same time. Meanwhile, staff are free to perform other tasks. On top of this, the entire cleaning cycle is traceable afterwards. We even have an integrated camera to record the only manual step in the procedure. No other manufacturer offers these features. This is unique technology, yet highly needed given the current contamination woes. By automating the process, unintentional human errors are eliminated, and the process is accelerated, procedure after procedure. “This is patient safety at its highest level”, says Nancy Steenbakkers.
Unique cleaning technology packed in a state-of-the-art design
Having a focus on pre-cleaning in general, UltraZonic has also developed a device for advanced ultrasonic cleaning of surgical instruments. With its MED device, it is guaranteed that all surgical instruments are cleaned thoroughly. With two unique cleaning concepts on the market, and a third one on its way, it is an understatement to say that constant innovation runs through UltraZonic’s DNA.
Our devices are not comparable with other devices in the field. Most other devices are just regular sinks made of stainless steel. Ours have that characteristic look and are also very user-friendly to work with. Through the height-adjustable platforms, and most steps being performed automatically, work-pressure is reduced enormously.
International game changers
As so often the case with start-ups, the development of the pre-cleaning device began in the double garage of Nancy and Serge. What started with a bold dream to eliminate avoidable cleaning mistakes developed into reality with a prototype. Meanwhile they moved to a spacious company building on the outskirts of Antwerp where the entire development takes place from design to production.
“It is quite the challenge, offering a product that is so innovative that the field first needs to understand why they need it. Yet, I keep going because I know that we are making a big improvement in healthcare. I know a case of someone who developed symptoms after an endoscopy. Investigation revealed that foreign bowel movements were at the root of his complaints. It is obvious that we do not produce extravagant luxury, actually quite the contrary. Poorly cleaned instruments are a worldwide problem, and this stretches far beyond Belgian borders. UltraZonic is rapidly extending its frontiers to tackle these widespread contamination woes. Our journey towards a worldwide conquest is still in full swing, with new regions such as the Middle East, Scandinavia and South America. Exciting times are ahead for patient safety”, Nancy Steenbakkers says exuberantly.