How to stop your surgeons from throwing away millions

A recent study at UCSF found that, on average, surgeons were wasting $968 worth of supplies per case. Multiply that by the number of cases each of your surgeons performs per year, and the average hospital is throwing away millions of dollars. Not only is this unnecessary waste bad for a hospitals already razor-thin margins, it also has a substantial negative impact on the environment. 

Reduce waste, reduce costs 

For organizations looking to cut supply costs (and who isn’t?), reducing waste may be a great place to start. After all, while surgeons frequently balk when asked to change supplies, claiming that their higher cost is justified by better patient outcomes, most would be hard pressed to make the same argument about decreasing waste.

The first step in reducing waste is to dedicate a team to observe a representative sample of procedures and see which supplies are frequently being thrown out unused. You may want to approach this one service line at a time, as the type of items wasted may vary significantly between different types of surgeries.

Next, you need to engage your surgeons. Dedicate time to show surgeons the cost of their cases relative to other surgeons and national benchmarks so they know how much room they have to improve. Be sure to put these numbers in context so they understand that cutting costs isn’t just about a hospital’s bottom line. Show them that reducing case costs both frees up resources to improve the practice environment and decreases the burden on patients who are shouldering more and more of the costs of their own care. 

Help physicians tackle preference cards

Once physicians are sufficiently motivated, it’s time to work together with them to tackle their preference cards. Chances are your surgeons probably have not revisited their preference card in a long time. What items are listed in the “always open” section? Do these include any of the items your team identified as “frequently wasted items”? Do they actually use all of the supplies listed every time? If not, these items should either be removed entirely or should be moved to a “have available but do not open” section.

It’s also possible that some items are frequently wasted because they are a superfluous addition to a pack that includes other supplies that your surgeons do actually use. In this case, you need to work with the supplier to get them to remove the unnecessary item(s) from the pack. Of course, make sure that the cost of the pack now also reflects the removed item!  

Finally, not all waste comes from throwing unused supplies away. Another source of avoidable waste is throwing away items that were actually used – but could have been reused after sterilizing or reprocessing. If your organization isn’t currently taking advantage of opportunities to reprocess single-use supplies, this may be another avenue for savings.

Need tips for talking to your surgeons? Check out our white paper on Engaging Surgeons in Cost Control 

Reduce surgical supply cost one procedure at a time

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