The organization Practice Greenhealth says that the healthcare industry ranks among the largest users of energy and the highest producers of waste, and is a major consumer of paper, water, food and other resources, resulting in an industry with a significant environmental footprint. Diconsiglio (2008) estimates that U.S. healthcare institutions dispose of more than 4 billion pounds of waste annually, making the health industry the second-largest contributor to landfills, which is second only to the food industry. Environmental stewardship in the healthcare environment encompasses numerous components, including eliminating medical supplies that produce toxic byproducts; using waste management strategies and energy and water reduction; engaging in environmentally preferable purchasing and other initiatives.
One related strategy is the reprocessing of reusable or single-use medical devices (SUDs) where appropriate. As Kwakye, et al. (2010) observe, “Already, more than 25 percent of U.S. hospitals ... are using reprocessing as a means of decreasing the tons of disposable waste generated annually. We have found it to be a common-sense strategy that uses detailed quality-control standards to recalibrate, clean, sterilize and remanufacture medical equipment. The result has been a significant waste reduction and cost savings.”
Ascent, a leader in the remanufacturing of medical devices in the U.S., says that its hospital partners have realized hundreds of millions of dollars in cost savings through the use of medical device remanufacturing programs in 2009. On a per-hospital basis, some hospitals saved more than $600,000 per year. Ascent’s programs also helped customers reduce their environmental footprint by diverting an estimated 5.3 million pounds of total waste from landfills.
Ascent tracks savings realized by its customers year-over-year. Cost savings resulting from Ascent’s remanufacturing programs were up more than 20 percent in 2009 and were up more than 50 percent versus 2007. While the savings are noteworthy, Ascent sees room for even more significant savings to the healthcare system in the future.