Recycling, reuse could save billions in healthcare cos

Recycling, reuse could save billions in healthcare costs

By Jake Thomas, Resource Recycling

A new study has found that hospitals could see significant savings by making their operations more environmentally friendly, including how they manage their waste and recycling.

The study was sponsored by the Healthier Hospitals Initiative and Health Care Without Harm through grants from the Commonwealth Fund and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Each of the nine health systems and hospitals in the study documented their savings in a number of areas, including waste management, energy use reduction and changes in their operating room supply procurement. The study's authors found that by being more environmentally-minded, the healthcare sector could save $5.4 billion over five years and $15 billion over 10 years.

The study found that nationally, hospitals could save $71 million over five years by streamlining their waste disposal processes to increase recycling, while generating less packaging, food waste and non-infectious refuse.

Seven hospitals in the study contracted with a service that collected used single-use medical devices. The service determined which devices could be reused that were then cleaned and sterilized before being sold back to the hospitals at a price that was less expensive than buying new ones. The study found that on average, hospitals reusing medical devices saved $12.04 per procedure, not counting the cost of disposing of the devices. Furthermore, it concluded that if hospitals across the country reused medical devices it would save $2.7 billion over five years.

Lastly, on waste issues, the study found that hospitals could save money by asking suppliers of operating room packs to leave out items that were often not used and discarded after the operation.

Two hospitals in the study saw a net cost savings of $4.33 per procedure. If hospitals across the country were to adopt these changes, they could save over a billion dollars over five years.

"This study turns on its head the belief that introducing environmental sustainability measures increases operating costs," said Blair L. Sadler, J.D., senior fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, one of the study authors and former CEO of Rady Children's Hospital, San Diego, California, in a prepared statement. "In fact, it is just the opposite. With little or no capital investments, significant operating savings can be realized. It is good for patients and staff, and is a better strategy than having to lay off valuable personnel or closing effective programs that lose money."

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