Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Greening of the O.R. and Hospitals and Corporate Social Responsibility

Although we are living in a world of "throwaways" we are seeing an exciting convergence of corporate social responsibility, green logistics, healthcare, and even humanitarian operations through the recycling, redesign, and reprocessing of medical products and associated medical waste, so there is HOPE!

Interestingly, as The New York Times is reporting, in the article, "In a World of Throwaways, Making a Dent in Medical Waste," by Ingfei Chen, the biggest source of medical refuse is the operating room (O.R.), with 20-30% of a hospital's waste.

A nonprofit group in VA, Practice Greenhealth, is now working on reducing the environmental footprint of health care institutions with its Greening of the O.R. initiative, which is focusing on identifying the best sustainable practices for reducing operating room garbage, energy consumption, and indoor air quality problems, while lowering expenses and improving safety -- all fantastic goals! Reducing the waste associated with medical supplies and equipment,which can be achieved through recycling and reprocessing, for example, can save on new purchases and can also reduce landfill fees and incineration costs.

For example, according to the article, the Hospital Corporation of America, which owns 163 hospitals, eliminated 94 tons of waste last year through the reprocessing of medical supplies!

I am reminded of the similarity between medical waste and recycling and reprocessing issues to that of electronic recycling, or e-cycling, a topic that I have written about in the past, with Dr. Fuminori Toyasaki. Our paper, "Reverse Supply Chain Management and Electronic Waste Recycling: A Multitiered Network Equilibrium Framework for E-Cycling," remains as one of the top cited papers in Transportation Research E.

Dr. Ralph Pennino, the chief of plastic surgery at Rochester General Hospital in upstate New York, notes that surgeons have agreed to use standardized supply kits selected to cover most of their needs while leaving little unused, so that they can “work systems out so we don’t have anything to reprocess." This is said beautifully and speaks to the importance of designing health care supply chains and medical products accordingly, a topic that we have also been writing about, and where we specifically allow decision-makers to assign costs associated with oversupply/waste.

Dr. Pennino notes that leftover items are donated to InterVol, a nonprofit organization started in 1989 by him. Each week, its volunteers gather about 8,000 pounds of unused supplies and reusable equipment from regional health care facilities, then ship the stock to clinics in more than two dozen countries, including Somalia and Haiti. This is an example of the best in green logistics, healthcare, and humanitarian operations!