Putting Medical “Waste” to Good Use

Hospitals throw away thousands of pounds of medical supplies, instruments, and machines every year. Items that are in patient rooms or operating rooms that are not used are unnecessarily discarded. Products that are not expired and are unopened are sent to the dump. There is nothing wrong with any of these items. A non-profit in Maine, Partners for World Health, is saving all these discarded supplies and sending them where they are needed.

You wonder why health insurance is so expensive. Americans want to have health care costs reduced, and cutting waste is a good place to start. The annual amount of waste could have paid for employee coverage for 150 million Americans. Other sources of high health care prices are overtreatment and excess administration. Medical supplies discarded waste millions of dollars.

Last year, the Partners group sent seven full shipping containers overseas to countries such as China, Senegal, and Ethiopia. Donations come in from hospitals from Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts. Most of these donations include equipment discarded due to upgraded models, changes in vendors, or supplies from the families of deceased patients. Medical aids, such as wheelchairs, walkers, canes, and equipment, such as ultrasound machines and laparoscopic surgery towers, are collected at the warehouse. Biomedical engineers check all machines before they are sent out.

Hospital officials state that some of the waste is unavoidable. While patients may not see the cost on their bill, the wasted supplies increase the hospital’s overhead, thus increasing costs to all patients. More than 600 American rural hospitals risk closure, and obtaining these donated supplies can help them stay open.

A study in December’s JAMA Surgery compared direct costs per procedure among surgeons at UCSF. Most hospital physicians were unaware of operating room costs. They are being given incentives if costs are reduced at least five percent. As a result of the challenge, surgical supply costs dropped 6.5%. Cutting the waste passes on savings to patients.

Allen, Marshall. “What Hospitals Waste.” ProPublica, 9 Mar 2017. Web. 12 Mar 2017.

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