Sustainability Solutions That Work: How to Achieve Optimal Reprocessing Results

August 9, 2011

By Lars Thording

Theres no question the healthcare industry is at a critical juncture. The pressure on healthcare providers to offer value without sacrificing quality has never been greater. But for change to happen, the responsibility to find innovative solutions to reduce costs and increase quality care must be shared equally by all stakeholders, including hospital executives, staff members and suppliers. With reform imminent and budgetary pressures mounting, the time for action is now. Its no longer enough for hospitals to implement short-term solutions such as staff or service cutbacks. To reduce healthcare costs without compromising the delivery of care, hospitals must devise and execute long-term, fully integrated sustainability solutions.

The good news is that there are already proven solutions to address these challenges. The single-most impactful cost-containment strategy that requires no capital investment is participating in a single-use device reprocessing program. Reprocessing addresses a facilitys economic and environmental responsibilities without compromising safety or efficacy, something hospitals are striving for every day in todays challenging and fast-changing healthcare environment. Today, reprocessing programs are employed by more than 50 percent of U.S. hospitals and all of the U.S. News & World Report "Honor Roll" hospitals.

Optimizing Results

To many hospitals, the use of reprocessed medical devices is critical to their ability to sustain operations and deliver quality care. While its true that most hospital leaders are familiar with reprocessing as a practice, many do not know that the ultimate potential of reprocessing is achieved over time, and depends on the extent of program implementation and engagement. Because of this, its not uncommon for results to vary substantially from hospital to hospital even between facilities of similar size. One hospital may realize $600,000 in annual savings and reduce waste by 9,000 pounds; whereas another hospital the same size may only realize $20,000 in annual savings and reduce waste by 70 pounds. While both savings amounts are significant to a facilitys bottom line, you may be wondering whats behind the difference, and how you can achieve optimal results.

Hospitals that adhere to the following best practices have the most successful reprocessing programs, allowing them to achieve true savings and waste reduction potential.

Executive support and engagement. It must come from the top. A successful reprocessing program requires the full support of hospital administration. Executives set the tone regarding the importance of reprocessing for their hospital.

Know the facts. Its important to stay up-to-date. Take the time to understand industry facts and statistics to identify the best ways to employ true sustainability initiatives, including reprocessing. Without knowing where the industry is heading, or where your facility or hospital system is sitting, it can be difficult to execute a successful reprocessing program. Some staggering facts facing the industry include:

Rising healthcare costs are the largest contributor to the federal budget deficit.

Healthcare facilities are the second leading contributor of waste in the U.S., producing more than 4 billion pounds of waste annually.

Operating rooms are some of the most resource-intensive and waste-generating places in hospitals, generating between 20 percent and 30 percent of a facilitys waste. Much of that waste is disposed of as regulated medical waste, which costs 10 to 15 times more to dispose than regular waste.

Half of OR budgets are spent on supplies that are thrown away, having been used once or not at all, even though re-use may be an option.

Arming yourself with information and recognizing the big picture is crucial to understanding how a reprocessing program can be used as a solution within the healthcare industry and within healthcare facilities.

Education. Its important to develop a comprehensive education plan for all staff involved in the reprocessing program, including surgeons, nurses and operating room staff. In a continually changing environment, hospital executives and staff members should stay current with the news and adjust their education plans accordingly. When major shifts happen, schedule a staff meeting to review and discuss the information as a team. Such shifts can include expanding your reprocessing program to other parts of the hospital, issuing new reprocessing guidelines to fit your program needs, or deciding to become an ACO. Going over the information as a team ensures awareness and understanding among all staff members.

Staff buy-in and cultural preparedness. Take time to answer questions and discuss the science behind reprocessing. Staff members may have uncertainties, so its important to address them right away. Be sure to separate fact from misinformation or personal impressions when it comes to reprocessing the savings potential is too great to be offset by inaccuracies. The key to changing staff members attitudes and behaviors about device usage is helping them understand both the financial and environmental impact of reprocessing and what that means to them personally.

Communication. Closely communicate with reprocessing vendors and staff members. A partnership with reprocessing vendors aids to constantly refine and improve a program. Similarly, seamless internal communication strengthens team camaraderie and the achievement of a programs objectives. When the staff is aware of the overall picture, they will understand how reprocessing enables essential savings that can be redirected to achieving the facilitys bottom line.

Collection and purchasing compliance. Conduct a close examination of inventory logistics, such as ordering, receiving and stocking devices. This will ensure that the hospital is purchasing reprocessed medical devices over their single-use counterparts when they are available to realize maximum savings potential. You must also educate and continually remind staff to put devices into the reprocessing collection bins after use.

Program accountability. Hold staff accountable for reaching a facilitys cost avoidance and waste reduction goals. Paint a clear picture of how reprocessing can impact a hospitals financial performance and, ultimately, their compensation.

Tracking and reporting frequency. Keep reprocessing top of mind with staff by tracking the programs progress and providing regular updates on the programs impact. Setting measureable goals and tracking progress on a regular basis will aid in the programs overall growth and success.

Thinking holistically. The entire hospital can benefit from reprocessing. If reprocessing is being implemented in just one area, there are savings possibilities that exist in other parts of the hospital as well, including the OR, EP and cath labs, and many patient-care areas. Enhancing and expanding a reprocessing program can truly maximize results.

Implementing a reprocessing program is the best way for a hospital to reduce its economic and environmental footprint without compromising patient safety or quality of care. An industry-wide effort is necessary to lead healthcare sustainability through the development of products, services and comprehensive programs that support the conservation of environmental and hospital resources. Following these best practices will not only help to achieve maximum savings potential within a facility, but will also work to provide solutions to the industry as a whole.

Lars Thording is the senior director of marketing and public affairs for Stryker Sustainability Solutions (formerly Ascent). For more information about reprocessing, visit: and

Online Cost Savings Calculator

The ultimate potential of reprocessing can be difficult to determine at first glance, even when best practices are followed. To put this into perspective, Stryker Sustainability Solutions (formerly Ascent) developed an online calculator that quantifies the cost savings and waste reduction potential of reprocessing. This cost savings calculator is designed as a guide to help hospitals estimate the potential results reprocessing can deliver based on size and program utilization, such as the number of staffed beds and the total number of reprocessing programs implemented hospital-wide.

Savings and waste estimates provided by the calculator are based on averages achieved by actual Stryker Sustainability Solutions reprocessing customers that have identified reprocessing as a target program and achieve the highest savings. Savings typically increase each year as reprocessing is embraced as a cornerstone to supply chain strategy. It is important to note that savings estimates are not typical; rather they show best practice potential. For example, a hospital with 250 beds that implements a reprocessing program in the OR and EP lab could save as much as $1 million and divert roughly 8,000 pounds of waste from landfills each year if the hospital makes a strategic and organizational commitment to reprocessing.

If youre a hospital thats already implementing reprocessing programs, you shouldnt be quick to overlook this tool. Hospitals can also utilize the calculator to uncover additional savings they arent already realizing. For a hospital that is only reprocessing in the OR, for example, the calculator can estimate how much more could be saved if the program were expanded to include the EP lab, non-invasive devices, or open/unused or expired devices.

As hospitals look for creative solutions to cut costs and reduce their environmental footprint, the savings calculator offers tangible data that can be used to make a notable impact on financial and environmental performance. Whether the tool is used to identify ways in which reprocessing can help your bottom line, to identify ways to get more out of your current reprocessing program, or to motivate staff and discuss ways to improve supply chain operations, your hospital or hospital system can benefit from calculating your savings potential.

To learn more about the cost savings and waste reduction potential of reprocessing, or to calculate your reprocessing potential, visit