Hospitals routinely discard at least tens of millions of dollars worth of unused, unexpired medical supplies each year, ProPublica reported.
Hospitals say that, in many instances, the waste is unavoidable and that items have to be discarded due to safety guidelines.
- Some hospitals have begun to explore ways to reduce waste when it comes to discarded medical supplies and it seems likely more will follow suit.
At a warehouse in Portland, Maine, Partners in World Health houses about $20 million worth of discarded medical supplies. The nonprofit is one of several organizations that collects unused medical supplies tossed aside by healthcare organizations and distributes them to other countries.
Elizabeth McLellan, a former nurse who founded Partners for World Health, has seen firsthand how wasteful hospitals can be. At the Maine Medical Center in Portland, where she used to work, it was was normal procedure following a discharge to discard most items in the vacated hospital room. However, Maine Medical Center is hardly the only hospital guilty of discarding usable medical supplies.
At the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), operating rooms were routing equipped for each surgery with a wide range of surgical equipment just in case it was needed. If an item went unused during a surgery, it was discarded. Researchers looked into the practice and determined it cost the neurosurgery department alone $2.9 million each year, according to a study published in February by the Journal of Neurosurgery.
It is not just discarded equipment that costs hospitals. Millions of dollars worth of supplies and equipment goes missing from hospitals each year. Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, California reported that 383 items valued at more than $11 million went missing from 2011 to 2014. More than $50,000 worth of equipment stolen from United Memorial Medical Center in Batavia, New York was later put up for sale on eBay.
Hospitals are beginning to address wasteful practices that result in discarded or missing supplies and equipment. Many are implementing real-time location systems and radio-frequency identification (RFID) to help track items and reduce time spent looking for them. A study published December 2016 in JAMA Surgery found that making surgeons more aware of costs helped to reduce spending on medical supplies.
Hospitals are taking on more of the financial costs of care and adjusting their practices accordingly. Moving forward, it seems likely that more hospitals will implement policies to help reduce waste found in the form of discarded and missing medical supplies.