For otolarygnologists (and other physicians), the challenge is to work toward a shift in medical culture, changing a collective medical mindset based on noninvolvement in such issues to a mindset based on a higher ethical standard. This involves educating our medical colleagues and working towards a purchasing shift that reflects a commitment to ‘do no wrong,’ he said.
Explore This IssueJuly 2009
Solutions Save Hospitals Money
US hospitals generate more than 7000 tons of waste per day, Dr. Cotton said. Some hospitals reportedly put 70% of all their waste into biohazardous waste treatment, yet according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 2% to 3% of hospital waste needs to be disposed of as infectious waste.
Processing biohazard waste is costly, with hospitals paying up to 10 times as much to dispose of infectious waste as regular solid waste.
Waste reduction and segregation programs are thus not only environmentally sound, but also represent cost savings…. [In fact] the literature is replete with reports indicating significant cost savings with improved waste segregation and reduction programs, he said.
As an example, in 1990, Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York began an aggressive waste segregation and staff behavior modification program, which resulted in cutting millions of dollars from its annual waste disposal costs. In 1996, Beth Israel Medical Center implemented a rigorous program to minimize both volume and the toxicity of waste generated, and saved about $600,000 annually, he said.
The task for otolaryngologists is to become knowledgeable about the goods that are purchased, how they are packaged and used, and what is discarded. Doctors need to help find ways to eliminate, reduce, reuse, and recycle. Instituting a hospital waste order is an important first step. Physician leaders need to be agents of change, he said.
Energy use is part of the equation too, with a 2001 report from the EPA citing hospitals as being energy-inefficient.
Hospitals expend about twice as much total energy per square foot as traditional office spaces, spending close to $3 billion annually on electricity alone, he said. The EPA report points out that if hospitals improve energy efficiency by 30%, the annual electricity savings will be nearly $1 billion overall, and 11 million fewer tons of carbon dioxide will be emitted.
European hospitals use about half the energy as comparable US hospitals, demonstrating that it can be done. Cost-cutting alone can be a valid reason to make energy consumption more efficient, but it also does the environment a favor by reducing CO2 emissions.