For a decade, the Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District has systematically replaced the use of old casting and splinting materials that are harmful to the environment and people with a Finnish eco-option. Thermoplastic Woodcast has found its way into both operating theatres and emergency rooms, reducing the amount of landfill waste and significantly speeding up the casting process. Patient safety and satisfaction have also improved. Two experienced Cast Technicians from HUS talk about their experiences with the wood-based material.
Easy to use material, especially for upper limb fractures
Juha Virtanen, a Cast Technician working in the emergency room of Hyvinkää Hospital has been using Woodcast since starting out as a Cast Tech in 2015. During a normal working week, he works a few days at the fracture clinic of the orthopaedic outpatient ward where he can treat at best 15 wrist fractures a day. The rest of the time he is on call in the emergency room. Woodcast was an obvious choice for him.
"I started using Woodcast because the material is non-toxic and you don't need to wear gloves or other protection when casting, unlike when using fiberglass or other synthetic materials. It is a domestic and easy-to-use option that can be used for more severe fractures. I think it's the best casting material, especially for upper limbs," says Virtainen.
Patient comfort is the number one goal
Karolina Koponen, a Cast Technician in the plastic surgery department of HUS Puistosairaala, has also used Woodcast for a decade already. When Karolina started working in the operating room, only one surgeon used Woodcast. Otherwise, casts and spints were made out of plastic. Karolina started marketing the eco-material in-house, and now virtually all casting in her department is done with Woodcast.
"Woodcast is much easier to handle than other materials. It is also more comfortable and lighter for the patient. Of course, breaking a limb is never a nice thing, but Woodcast does cause a really positive reaction in the patients. Many people are amazed when they receive a splint or cast made of Woodcast. Especially those who have prior experience with casts made of other materials say that it is much better and lighter. Patients thank me and tell me that I made a really good cast for them," says Koponen.
Reusable material is better for health and climate
"Woodcast is a completely decomposable and non-toxic material that does not require protective gear like plaster of paris does for example. Thanks to its thermoplastic properties, it is also reusable, meaning that the same splint can be remolded and fitted for the same patient. If you make a cast from synthetic materials, it's always thrown in the trash during cast changes and checks", says Koponen.
Juha Virtanen also considers the environmental aspect important, especially when dealing with a large organisation like HUS. With Woodcast, the environmental friendliness is particularly evident in hospital waste management.
"Woodcast can be put into biodegradable waste. Plaster of Paris, fibreglass and other materials just go into landfill waste. Of course, providing excellent care is the number one thing, but I'm finding that both the staff and the patients are becoming more and more conscious and interested in environmental issues. Younger doctors and nurses especially are coming to me to ask about this on their own initiative. Wood-based casting interests them!"
Ready-made splints further reduce waste and make training easier
Both Koponen and Virtanen train doctors and nurses in the art of casting and splinting, using Woodcast of course. There is little need to promote the material, as anyone who tries it quickly finds it to be the easiest option. Still, cutting, measuring and padding the casts can be tricky without years of experience. The successor to Woodcast, called UCAST, has a pre-cut wood splint, and all the padding and tapes are replaced with a soft, self-cohesive fabric. The out-of-the-box casts for Wrist, Thumb or Humerus for example are picked from a shelf to match the injury at hand. It only takes about 5 minutes to apply a UCAST splint.
"Many people find it a bit daunting to learn a new material, so UCAST could be a good solution," comments Karolina Koponen.
Juha Virtanen has also found UCAST to work and has seen the positive reaction of others.
"One hand surgeon was really excited about UCAST's thumb application. For a beginner, making a thumb splint can be difficult and takes a lot of time. With UCAST you don't need years of training, it's quick and easy. And there's no wastage at all as nothing needs to be cut."
For people, animals, or even the fireplace in your cottage
Both Juha Virtanen and Karolina Koponen are enthusiastic about the spreading usage of Woodcast.
"Everyone should use this material, here in Finland and abroad! Finland is already doing quite well, and it's great that the material is also available for animals. Especially occupational therapists and hand therapists could make even greater use of wood," says Virtanen.
"It's a great material, and it's great that it's spreading around the world. Finns should be proud that we have come up with such an invention," says Koponen.
The two casting professionals have also found other uses for the waste pieces of Woodcast they have lying around when the biowaste bin happens to be too far away.
"It's like ecological play dough. I just made a flower for a colleague who is leaving to work elsewhere" says Karolina Koponen.
Juha Virtanen, on the other hand, burns the Woodcast pieces at home, at a camping trip or at the cottage.
"Even wet wood ignites with this, it's the best tinder there is!"
Do you want to see how Woodcast and UCAST work? Book a time for a short video call with our trained Cast Technicians here: ucastmedical.com/#demo