Kaiser Permanente, a California-based healthcare group, saved $8.2 million in purchasing and waste disposal costs last year through use of reprocessed medical devices.
Re-use of medical devices is one part of an effort by Kaiser Permanente to improve sustainability and reduce costs. The growing national drive spearheaded by KP has important implications for the plastics industry beyond the already widely publicized efforts to curtail use of PVC in intravenous applications. Demand could weaken for single-use surgical instruments, for example. Demand could grow for special plastic containers to manage and haul regulated waste in another example.
"The U.S. health care system consumes massive amounts of energy and generates a mountain of waste," says George C. Halvorson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente. "American hospitals alone spend more than $10 billion annually on energy, and healthcare facilities send 6600 tons of trash to landfills each and every day. Those are sobering numbers. We as an industry can do better."
Another goal at KP is to divert 40% waste from landfills by the end of 2015. "Our electronic health record system, now in use across all of our medical facilities, dramatically decreased the use—and cost—of paper forms," says Halverson in an illustration of how waste is diverted.
In a case study posted on the Practice Greenhealth site, KP said it could eliminate 300 tons of waste by converting from disposable "sharps" waste containers to reusable containers. The forecast cost savings were more than $2.2 million annually. According to KP, reusable containers can withstand 500 uses before retirement
A report released by the Commonwealth Fund last month estimated that more than $15 billion could be saved in a 10-year period if the health care industry conserved energy, reduced waste, and more efficiently purchased operating supplies.
One of the issues studied by the Commonwealth Fund was efficiencies related to reuse of medical devices in the operating room.
According to the report: "The U.S. Government Accountability Office stated in a 2008 report that U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversight of reprocessed SUDs (single-use devices) has increased and that available information indicates that their use does not present an elevated health risk."
Researchers studied practices at seven hospitals to extrapolate potential national savings. The hospitals were not identified.
"We estimated that the seven study hospitals' cost savings over five years was about $57 per procedure and that if hospitals nationwide adopted the study hospitals' SUD reprocessing intervention, the cost savings would be $540 million annually, or $2.7 billion over five years."
Managing healthcare waste is becoming a big business. Stericycyle, which worked with KP on its sharps waste project, estimates the size of the regulated waste market in 2011 at $15 billion.
Stericycle (Lake Forest, IL) supplies specially designed reusable leak-resistant and puncture-resistant plastic containers to collect hospital waste.