Why generic printer cartridges are not the same as generic drugs


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Australian medical clinics are very good at meeting their obligations and responsibilities where the health of the patients is concerned. However, something that’s often overlooked is the toner used in printers — while this might sound like something small, it could be a bigger potential hazard than even the drugs administered and prescribed by the clinic.

Generic drugs vs generic toner; a comparison

Health clinics will often prescribe ‘generic’ drugs for medicines in which the relevant patents have expired. These drugs will have the same active ingredient as the commercial, ‘brand name’ version of the drug, but because these drugs were developed by companies that didn’t invest the R&D on the medicine, they’re typically cheaper.

A generic drug isn’t any more of a risk to the patient — it still needs to meet Australia’s extensive standards of quality, safety, and effectiveness to be sold at all, so there’s no reason for the customer to spend more on the “brand drug”.

There are also “generic” (or third party) toners available for use in printers. These are manufactured to fit into printers made by another company. The appeal of these cartridges can be much the same as the appeal of generic drugs — they can be cheaper. Unlike the generic drugs, however, there isn’t the same legal or regulatory oversight in the production of toner, and this potentially creates significant problems for any clinic that buys a third-party toner.

The risks, explained

The first primary risk is toner leakage. A test report produced by Buyers Lab that tested Brother toner against the quality of 10 third-party toners in a Brother machine showed there was a substantial trend of toner leakage during use. As the report states:

“At the end of testing, Brother was the only toner cartridge brand to leave the printer in a clean condition. Without exception, all third-party brands tested left toner deposits inside the machine.”

As a secondary risk, many of the third-party toner cartridges printed pages where the toner hadn’t bonded properly with the page, resulting in subsequent smudging. Whereas Brother toner ensured that each page that was produced featured no smudging.

Purely from a commercial perspective, this means that third party toner supplies are not good value for money. The toner deposits they leave in machines means that the machine needs to be cleaned more frequently, will wear to the point of the machine needing replacement much faster and voids the warranty. Additionally, the average third party toner brand was tested to only produce 38% of the printed yield of Brother toner cartridges, meaning third party toners need to be replaced more frequently. This results in a greater potential that the clinic will have periods where it’s unable to print while it waits for replacement supplies.

In an environment in which precision and detail in records is critical, the propensity for smudging from third party toner cartridges means that reprints will often become necessary. In an environment such as a clinic, where patient data security is paramount, this also has a knock-on effect of requiring the management and destruction of more pages of paper.

There’s more to it than just the commercial inconvenience and inefficiency of third-party consumables, though. The big concern for clinics and healthcare from these poorly-manufactured third party toners is the potential health risks of the toner itself.

The risks of third-party toner in healthcare

Properly used and manufactured, toner is a very safe material for printing. As long as the toner has bonded properly with the page, so excess particles are not susceptible to being blown off or smudged onto fingers, there’s no inherent risk in using toner.

However, third-party toner which leaves deposits in machines or smudges off pages, is a different story. Third-party toner that has been smudged onto fingers could come into contact with eyes, which might cause eye irritation, and if ingested, can cause a stomach ache.

In a typical environment these risks are small, with minor implications. In an environment such as a clinic, which is meant to be kept sterile and many of those in the environment are suffering health complaints, the risks are greater if there is a significant amount of loose toner dust in the environment.

This is a risk that the administrators of many medical centres aren’t even aware of, Brother Commercial Manager, Luke Howard, said. “Some of the Doctors or Office Administrators at clinics have the perception that generic toners go through the same stringent manufacturing and approval process as genuine toners,” he said. “They’re used to expecting safety and reliability from generic drugs and expect the same to be true in other areas.

“In order to maintain the health safety standards of a clinical environment, it’s important to purchase genuine consumables from the original manufacturer,” Luke added. “In order for toner to fuse onto the page correctly, the compound of the toner is designed to be fused at the temperatures that is set in a laser printer, this is something that only the manufacturer can properly test during the manufacturing process.”

Brother Toner; putting safety first

As with any chemical, it’s important to operate toner with a focus on safety. Visit corpsolutions.brother.com.au/healthcare for more information.

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