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Surgical Equipment

Quality Improvement Programs Can Shrink Surgery’s Environmental Footprint

By Jonathan Springston, Editor, Relias Media

More than two dozen interventions built on the concepts of refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle helped surgery departments cut costs, prevent waste, conserve energy, and shrink their overall environmental footprints.

A group of researchers in Illinois conducted a broad literature review to find programs that were built around improvements in environmental, financial, and social impacts. The authors classified 28 interventions into four sustainability categories: 11 refuse initiatives, eight reduce initiatives, six recycle initiatives, and three reuse initiatives.

Researchers reported the initiative that produced the greatest cost savings also might have been the simplest: educating staff how to consolidate and trash medical waste. This program led to a 30% reduction in medical waste at the hospital, resulting in nearly $700,000 in annual savings.

Other programs varied in complexity: powering off lights and equipment at night, transforming an operating room into a waterless surgical scrub environment, and altering premade surgery equipment packs to remove unnecessary disposable items that never would be used during a procedure and would go straight into the trash.

“I see surgeons taking a prominent role in leading efforts, not just locally with their green implementation teams, but in setting national standards and policies that will move this effort forward for an overall sustainable way of approaching healthcare delivery,” said Mehul V. Raval, MD, MS, FACS, study coauthor and pediatric surgeon at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital, Chicago.

“From making sure that waste is deposited into the proper bins to wider adoption of recycling programs at hospitals, surgeons can start small. If we can come together just to think about what we are using, we can lower the amount of waste that we are producing overall, and reduce our emissions,” added Gwyneth A. Sullivan, MD, MS, lead study author and surgical resident at Rush University and a research fellow at Northwestern University Surgical Outcomes & Quality Improvement Center, both in Chicago.

In April, the Biden administration encouraged the entire healthcare industry to voluntarily commit to cutting emissions in half by 2030. For more information on going green in the operating room, check out this special report Relias Media published.