Bipolar forceps are similar to normal surgical forceps in shape, but the intended purpose is much different. Unlike surgical forceps, which are meant to open and hold tissue, bipolar forceps are meant to coagulate — or make solid or semisolid — tissue by means of an electrical current. This electrical current is fired through the tips of the bipolar forceps. These forceps come in many different materials and are offered in disposable and reusable varieties.
Bipolar forceps got that name because the forceps are connected to a bipolar cable that offers a bipolar output of energy provided by an electrosurgical generator. The bipolar cable attaches to a connector in the back of the forceps. The electrical current in these forceps is not constant. It is controlled by the surgeon, who uses a pump or switch to turn the current on only when needed. When a current is not running through the forceps, they can be used as regular surgical forceps.
Coagulation is important during certain procedures and surgeries to control blood loss or to seal tissue. The electric current can also be used to heat tough tissue and make it easier to separate. Tissue does not stick to the forceps tips because the heat and current are directed away from the tips. Two procedures in which bipolar forceps cannot be used effectively, however, are tubal coagulation for sterilization and tubal sterilization. Both of these procedures involve female sterilization as a way to avoid having children.
The three most common materials for bipolar forceps are surgical-grade stainless steel, titanium and different types of plastic. Some procedures will call for a specific material type, and some patients may have reactions to certain materials. It usually comes down to the surgeon’s preference. Along with different materials, the forceps also come in different shapes that can aid in doing certain procedures.
Reusable and disposable versions of these forceps are available. Reusable versions are more durable because they are used continuously. Between procedures, the forceps are autoclaved, or sterilized, to ensure no germs or diseases transfer to the next patient. After a certain amount of time, the forceps may need to be repaired, which may lead to higher overall costs.
Disposable bipolar forceps are made for one-time use before the forceps are thrown away. The forceps themselves are cheaper, and there is no repair or sanitizing costs associated with them. On the downside, the surgeon will need a large supply of forceps, and the forceps are usually not as durable because they are only meant for the one use.