Hospitals Have a Supply Waste Problem

Hospitals are massive, complex organizations, relying on the cooperation and collaboration of multiple departments in order to run smoothly. Patient care is of the utmost importance, so, understandably, much of a hospital’s collective brainpower goes toward making sure that patients are being treated up to the level of the hospital’s highest standards.

However, this necessary focus on patient care results in other aspects of a hospital’s operations being put on the backburner. Tasks like inventory management aren’t prioritized, and issues like supply waste become all too common.

Though it may seem like an unavoidable side effect of hospital activities, supply waste isn’t exactly something to sneeze at. A study completed by the National Academy of Medicine estimated that the U.S. healthcare system wasted $765 billion a year.

That’s more than a side effect. That’s a large scale problem.


Hospitals have a supply waste problem

Hospital supply waste is a rampant issue across the United States. Large hospital networks in particular contribute to this problem, which comes with negative financial and environmental consequences.

One aspect of hospital supply waste has to do with expired products. When a product expires, it makes sense that it would be removed from a hospital’s supply room so that it is not accidentally used on a patient. However, when you combine a hospital’s tendency to overpurchase inventory with a lack of priority for inventory management, a lot of products can expire. These products end up in the trash, when they could have been dealt with before their expiration date if they were properly managed. Instead of becoming waste, these products could have either been donated or sent back to a vendor for credit.

Just how big of a problem are expired products in hospitals? According to Diagnostic & Interventional Cardiology, “As much as 7% to 10% of products are likely to expire on hospital shelves.”

When you consider the cost of even the most basic of hospital supplies, those percentages start to add up.

According to a study published in the Journal of Neurosurgery by Dr. Corinna Zygourakis, the chief neurosurgery resident at UCSF,  the hospital “wasted an estimated $968 per neurosurgery case, which amounted to about $2.9 million over the course of a year.”

The waste that Dr. Zygourakis is referring to in her study at UCSF was the result of a “just in case” mentality that put disposable surgical instruments in the operating room “just in case” a surgeon needed them. Even if they weren’t used, the hospital would need to discard the instruments because they had been removed from their sterile packaging. That kind of supply waste is unnecessary.

Hospitals who are concerned about their bottom lines need to look closer at their supply waste, but patients should be aware as well. Wasted supplies increase a hospital’s overhead, through inflated inventory budgets or room fees that cover the cost of supplies that patients may not even need during their stay. When supply waste gets out of hand in a hospital, everyone’s prices are higher.

Finally, hospital supply waste doesn’t just affect the hospital’s pocketbook, or the patient’s, it also affects the environment. Sustainability is a widespread topic of conversation across industries, and hospitals may be the next to come under fire. Reducing supply waste is just one way for hospitals to lessen their carbon footprint. Right now, hospitals are responsible for at least 1% of non-residential landfill waste according to the Ontario Hospital Association. That needs to change.


What do hospitals waste?

The list of products that hospitals waste is long. It includes items like unused sutures, syringes, IV tubing, and catheters, in addition to expired products, some disposable items, and no-longer-sterile instruments. It also includes items that are deemed “medical surplus”.

According to an article in ProPublica, this category can include “equipment discarded for upgraded models” and “supplies tossed after a hospital changed vendors”. That means non-single use items like used wheelchairs, walkers, canes, and IV pumps are needlessly discarded by hospitals simply because they’ve been used by another patient. While taking precautions to ensure patient safety is important, there are some instances where hospitals could look at their current practices and find ways to reduce waste. This is one of them.

In addition to used equipment, hospitals also discard equipment when it is no longer the most recent model. When a medical salesperson visits a hospital with a newer version of their equipment, they’re likely to purchase it and get rid of the old one, even if it is still functional. Recent technology is integral to hospitals, but rarely is it worth it to have a version that is just one year newer than your current equipment. If hospitals made it their policy to only upgrade when improvements have been made to the equipment that would drastically improve a patient’s experience, they would see a major reduction in their supply waste.


How can hospitals solve their supply waste problem?

The first step to solving a supply waste problem is admitting that you have one. Inventory management is key to efficiently running a hospital, and medical organizations need to prioritize in order to reduce their supply waste.

Like I mentioned earlier, a hospital’s focus should always be on their patients, yet managing inventory takes manpower. How can a concerned hospital reconcile these two issues?

By relying on an expiration date management software, hospitals can keep an eye on their entire inventory at a glance, without refocusing staff’s attention away from patients. Software like Date Check Pro for Healthcare provides key insights into when supplies are about to expire, allowing hospitals to proactively make decisions about what to do with these items. For example, if a box of sutures is about to expire, Date Check Pro for Healthcare will send a notification to a manager, which allows them to decide whether they’ll be able to use the sutures before they expire, or whether they need to look at their other options.

Hospitals do have other options at their disposal – not everything that goes unused needs to end up in the trash! Smaller, rural hospitals often do not have large budgets and will gladly accept items that larger hospitals don’t see a use for. Many vendors will also allow hospitals to return unused products for vendor credit or trade. If you’re notified ahead of time by your expiration date management software, these are decisions you can feel good about making, instead of allowing these products to end up in a landfill, and affect your bottom line.

In addition to notifying hospital staff when they need to act on an item in their supply room, Date Check Pro for Healthcare can also help supply managers determine which products are routinely overstocked and underused. This information would be difficult to track without a software solution, relying on accuracy in mandatory processes, and ensuring that all products are located where they should be. In a hospital where the day’s events are completely unpredictable, it’s difficult to ensure that enough hours are being spent on inventory management, and that everything is being completed at a high level. Allowing your expiration date management software to take over the tracking gives you the data that you need to make informed buying decisions, and gives you peace of mind knowing that you won’t be wasting your supply budget on products you don’t need.

Hospital supply waste is a large scale problem that needs to be addressed, for the sake of a hospital’s patients, its financial security, and the environment. If your hospital’s supply waste problem has gone unaddressed, it may be time to take a closer look at your current procedures and evaluate if you can improve them with a simple switch to a software solution.


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