5 Ways to Reduce Hospital Supply Waste

Waste and sustainability are global topics, but the healthcare industry has only recently come under their magnifying glass. While food waste, household waste, and corporate waste are all major contributors to the issue, hospital systems need to be looking just as closely at their processes and procedures for reducing supply waste.

According to research from the University of California-San Francisco, 2,000 tons of waste come from U.S. operating rooms daily, and a report from Johns Hopkins University estimated that $15 million worth of unused surgical supplies are discarded every year.

To put things into perspective, a study that examined 58 neurosurgeries at UCSF Medical Center found that nearly $1,000 in supplies per procedure were discarded without being used, costing up to $2.9 million annually.

In an industry with necessarily strict regulations like healthcare, it can be easy to rationalize that waste. Supplies are thrown away because of the potential for contamination or patient harm, so that waste is warranted right?

In some cases, yes. However, there are other culprits for supply waste in hospitals, and the sooner we address them as an industry, the closer we can get to eradicating supply waste.


5 Ways to Reduce Hospital Supply Waste

Keep your supply room organized

It’s not a secret that your supply room probably isn’t as put together as it should be. It’s also difficult to make it a priority – after all your staff’s first and foremost concern should be patient care, not sorting through bins in the supply room.

However, if you implement a system that keeps the room organized, it will actually save your staff time – and save you money.

Whatever system that you choose to implement, there is one rule that you need to make sure your staff follow when it comes to your supply room: make sure the supplies that are closest to expiring are used first.

If that rule is implemented and followed to a tee by your staff, you’ll drastically reduce the amount of supply waste that comes from expired products.


The University of Kansas saw a projected 32.2% reduction in annual loss in the first year of using Date Check Pro for Healthcare. Click here to dig deeper into expiration date management in healthcare.


Institute a waste-free physician culture

If the issue of supply waste hasn’t been brought up in your hospital yet, it’s time to make a change. Traditional actions taken by physicians and nurses result in small amounts of waste that create a ripple effect and add up to be a large problem for your system.

For example, supplies are stored in many operating rooms to begin with, and it’s common for nurses to grab more supplies from core rooms than they need. Those items typically don’t make it back to their proper storage spot in your supply room, and they end up lost or expired – adding to the supply waste that your hospital is generating.

It’s likely that the culture in your hospital needs to be adjusted to become conscious of the waste that is being produced on a daily basis.

Ryan Martter, strategic sourcing manager at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago said, “”Do you have a culture where everything is immediately opened and ready to go before the case even begins? If so, a supply might be on a preference card just in case it is needed, but if it is always being opened and never runs into the scenario where it’s needed, it always becomes a wasted item.

Reviewing preference cards to determine trends in commonly requested but repeatedly unused items will help you to reduce this unecessary aspect of your supply waste.

“If you look at other industries, you don’t take a bill of materials and say this is it, then only use half those bills every time. That would just not survive in a manufacturing industry. You would adjust your bill,” said Stephen Downey, Group SVP of supply chain operations at Vizient Inc. in Irving, Texas.


Order proactively to discourage hoarding behavior

Theodore Pappas of Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida put it best when he said, “”When it comes to waste and product on the shelf, you talk about hoarding and hiding things in drawers and other types of activities that caregivers are accustomed to in certain circumstances. In many cases, we are failing as a supply chain if we allow that to happen—we are not putting the right things in the right place at the right time so it’s easily attainable for caregivers.”

As a supply chain executive, it is your job to ensure that your staff has the tools they need to do their jobs well, but it is also your job to make sure that they are not presented with supplies that they don’t need, that will later become waste.

Use preference cards or qualitative research to figure out what supplies physicians and nurses like to use, which are used regularly, and order them proactively to discourage hoarding behaviors that can lead to waste.

“If a supply is readily available for them, they are not going to have to hoard it the next time. We also need to teach them why that’s important and the implications of hoarding. You need to share the cost of expired product expense,” said Pappas.


Be transparent about waste and the subsequent costs to the hospital

Your employees may not even know the financial and environmental costs associated with the waste that the hospital is producing on a daily basis. 

Suture Express notes that, “It’s easier to waste money when you’re ill-informed.”

Spend a bit of time training your staff on the costs of hospital waste, and follow up with consistent messaging and positive reinforcement that rewards physicians and departments who are doing a great job of reducing waste.


Implement an expiration date management system

Finally, a tactical solution to reducing supply waste in your hospital is to implement an expiration date management system. This software goes beyond the manual processes that you already have in place for your staff, and will decrease the likelihood that supplies will go missing or expired because of hoarding and poor inventory management.

A digital system like Date Check Pro for Healthcare has the benefit of keeping track of your supply waste and expired products in one easy-to-digest dashboard. 

The University of Kansas recently piloted the program and saw exciting results. Not only did they see a 7% month-over-month reduction in expired loss and a projected 32.2% projected reduction in annual loss in the first year of program deployment (which adds up in the healthcare industry), but they also saw a 56% increase in efficiency from their staff members who were tasked with expiration date management.

Waste and sustainability are prominent issues in nearly every industry around the globe today, but healthcare is a recent target for inspection and improvement. By executing the five tips above for reducing supply waste in your hospital, you can be ahead of the curve and cement your status as a hospital that not only cares about your patients, but also the future of the environment.

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