Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Hospital Question Economics of Using Disposable Supplies

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Hospital Question Economics of Using Disposable Supplies

Article excerpt

N.Y. Times News Service

Until recently, hospitals could mark up the price of disposable supplies like scrub gowns and certain instruments by 400 percent or so and bill the patient, paying little attention to the millions of dollars they spent a year on items used only once.

But that is no longer the case. Under pressure from the Clinton administration and private payers to reduce spending, a growing number of hospitals are questioning the economics of these throwaway supplies, which are estimated to account for 80 percent of the $1.2 billion hospitals will spend this year on operating room equipment.

Hospitals also pay heavily to have medical waste carted to landfills.

"As cost and the environment become more of an issue, hospitals are revisiting the whole issue of whether they should be using disposable supplies," said Michael Neely, the president-elect of the American Society of Hospital Materials Management, a professional group.

These new concerns have set hospital suppliers scrambling. Vendors of disposables have in some cases offered to lower their prices to keep their contracts. Some are now plugging reusable products.

Meanwhile, a new industry has cropped up for laundering and sterilizing hospital garments.

In addition to cost and environmental concerns, worker safety is also driving the shift to reusables. Under federal worker safety rules, hospitals are legally responsible for safeguarding physicians, nurses and technicians in the operating room.

That responsibility prompted the R Adams Crowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore to switch to a new type of reusable, protective operating gown that it deemed to be safer than disposables.

Tricia Prather, a senior operating room nurse, said there were concerns about contact with the blood of accident and crime victims arriving by helicopter and ambulance at Crowley's five operating rooms.

They often required lengthy surgery with great loss of blood and there was no time to determine if they had AIDS or hepatitis B.

She said the center had changed to liquid-proof reusable operating gowns after an orthopedic surgeon reported that a patient's blood had soaked through a supposedly impenetrable, disposable gown to her skin.

Even the lowliest items _ plastic trays, paper wrapping for sterilized instruments, and the flimsy paper berets that are worn in the operating room _ are getting intense scrutiny.

Some operating rooms are going back to stainless steel trays. Some are switching to gowns interwoven with strong plastic thread that cost $60 to $90 each but may last through 80 to 125 washings and sterilizings.

And some hospitals are also reviewing spending for throwaway versions of the tiny laparoscopic instruments that are frequently used to remove gall bladders and for other surgical procedures. …

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