Yokl: Old is New Again

Reprocessing medical devices is still a controversial practice at some hospitals, systems and IDNs, but it shouldn’t be since this should be the “new normal” for supply chain professionals. The reason for this is that even if ObamaCare isn’t fully enacted, over the next few years, healthcare organizations will not be receiving increases in their third-party reimbursement; therefore hospitals must continue to reduce their cost wherever feasible.

When I entered the healthcare industry in the 1960s, very few medical devices were disposable.  All hospitals routinely reprocessed gloves, gowns, linens, instruments, needles, syringes, etc., as a best practice and no one questioned the efficacy of doing so. In an effort to make our jobs somewhat easier, over the next 50 years, we as an industry slowly adopted disposable products as the standard of excellence.  

Some disposable products made good sense — syringes and needles for instance — since it was always a hassle to get these medical devices properly cleaned, sharpened and prepared for use. But thousands of other medical devices really couldn’t be cost justified, but we converted these products to disposable too with little or no value justification.

By not reprocessing these products we have increased our hospital’s cost by 50% to 60% on medical devices such as orthopedic drill bits, pulse oximeters, and heart monitor.  Just as important, we have needlessly added gazillions of tons of medical waste to our nation’s landfills. Is this what you would consider progress?


That’s not all!  Most hospitals that I visit utilize disposable paper products in their cafeteria, tray line and for their patients.  While this is convenient to do so, it just adds another layer of unneeded cost to your hospital’s budget.  When I worked for a hospital management company, one of the first things we did was to convert our clients back to reusable knifes, plates, spoons, dishes, etc., for their patients and staff use at a whopping 24% savings.  And we were given kudos from these hospitals’ staff and patients for doing so!

So what I’m suggesting here is that you take a second look at the disposable products usage at your hospital, system or IDN to determine what is practical and workable to reprocess. The Sisters of Mercy Health System in St. Louis did just that and found they could save $2 million a year, while diverting 60 tons of medical waste from landfills for its 30 hospitals.  What better way to start a New Year than to boost your bottom line and protect the environment with no downside for your hospital, system or IDN. I can’t think of one – can you?


Robert T. Yokl

Chief Value Strategist

Strategic Value Analysis® in Healthcare


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