Study documents millions in unused medical supplies in US operating rooms each year

October 27, 2014

Medical XPress

A Johns Hopkins research team reports that major hospitals across the U.S. collectively throw away at least $15 million a year in unused operating room surgical supplies that could be salvaged and used to ease critical shortages, improve surgical care and boost public health in developing countries. A report on the research, published online Oct. 16 in the World Journal of Surgery, highlights not only an opportunity for U.S. hospitals to help relieve the global burden of surgically treatable diseases, but also a means of reducing the cost and environmental impact of medical waste disposal at home.
The fact of surgical supply waste is nothing new, the researchers note, but say their investigation may be one of the first systematic attempts to measure the national extent of the problem, the potential cost savings and the impact on patients' lives. While several organizations run donation programs for leftover operating room materials, such efforts would be far more successful if they were made standard protocol across all major surgical centers, the authors say.
"Perfectly good, entirely sterile and, above all, much-needed surgical supplies are routinely discarded in American operating rooms," says lead investigator Richard Redett, M.D., a pediatric plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center. "We hope the results of our study will be a wakeup call for hospitals and surgeons across the country to rectify this wasteful practice by developing systems that collect and ship unused materials to places that desperately need them."
The staggering waste of surgical supplies, the researchers say, is rooted in the common practice of bundling surgical materials in ways that streamline operating room readiness and efficiency, but once opened, everything in the bundle that is unused is thrown away.
"Such programs are acutely needed not only to help address serious needs in resource poor-settings but also to minimize the significant environmental burden at home institutions," says study co-author Eric Wan, M.D., a recent graduate of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine currently doing postdoctoral training at the National Institutes of Health. "This really is a win-win situation."