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Operating Room Waste Incurs Heavy Financial Burden

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 19 Sep 2016
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Image: Two images of wasted surgical supplies after a UCSF neurosurgery procedure (Photo courtesy of Christopher Moriates/ UCSF).
Image: Two images of wasted surgical supplies after a UCSF neurosurgery procedure (Photo courtesy of Christopher Moriates/ UCSF).
A new study reveals that on average, almost USD 1,000 of disposable operating room (OR) supplies go unused, and are discarded after surgery.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF; USA) and Brown University (Providence, RI, USA) conducted a study to quantify the utilization of disposable supplies and the costs associated with opened (but unused) items in 58 neurosurgical procedures (36 cranial, 22 spinal) completed at the UCSF Medical Center by 14 different surgeons. Every wasted disposable supply was quantified in USD, as determined from the supply catalog, and statistical analyses were performed.

The results revealed that the average cost of unused supplies was USD 653, or 13.1% of the total surgical supply cost. Case type (cranial versus spinal), case category (vascular, tumor, functional, instrumented, and noninstrumented spine), and surgeon were important predictors of the percentage of unused surgical supply cost. Conversely, case length and years of surgical training had no effect. Among the most discarded supplies were sponges, blue towels, and gloves. The most expensive item wasted was surgifoam, a sponge used to stop bleeding, which can cost close to USD 4,000 each.

When taking into consideration case distribution, the authors estimate approximately USD 968 per case, or USD 2.9 million per year of OR waste is generated in the UCSF neurosurgical department alone. They therefore recommend price transparency, education about OR waste to surgeons and nurses, preference card reviews for each surgeon, and clarification of supplies that should be opened, versus available as needed, all in order to reduce waste. The study was published on May 6, 2016, in the Journal of Neurosurgery.

“Operating rooms in the U.S. produce more than 2,000 tons of waste per day; some of it is biological and must be safely disposed of,” said co-lead author Seungwon Yoon, of Brown University. “Part of the research involved identifying which surgeries generated the most waste. Spinal procedures, for example, are among the most wasteful. There is little agreement on how hospitals should address operating room wastefulness; each hospital or hospital system handles waste in its own way.”

“All three of UCSF’s hospitals have been working to reduce waste. Some medical devices, whether used or unused during surgery, can be reprocessed by an FDA-approved third party company and sold back to the hospital for about half the original sales price,” commented Gail Lee, director of sustainability for UCSF hospitals and campus. “This allows hospitals to save money and cut down on the volume of disposable supplies that end up in landfill. This strategy saved UCSF hospitals about USD 1.1 million over the past year.”

Related Links:
University of California, San Francisco
Brown University

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