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Reflections on the state of health care sustainability

June 18, 2013
Brian White
President of Stryker Sustainability Solutions
By Brian White

Being in the business of third-party SUD reprocessing, our organization has long been involved in helping support the advancement of hospital sustainability initiatives. In the early days, sustainability in health care wasn’t easy — it required substantial investment and lacked the visibility provided by other initiatives within the hospital. Thanks, in part, to organizations like Practice Greenhealth and the dedication of forward-thinking health systems and suppliers, there has been a dramatic shift in attitudes toward economic and environmental stewardship. Today, health care sustainability is a top priority for most leading hospitals and health systems. Many of the initiatives being pursued, including reprocessing, are helping providers contain costs.

As one illustration of the industry’s progress, this year’s CleanMed Conference had record attendance with very high C-level participation. This tells me hospital leaders are realizing that environmental initiatives can help “bend” the cost curve. The conference was a good example of how far we’ve come and, yet, how much more work needs to be done. There are some significant barriers obstructing progress. I’ve documented some of them here in this column in order to shed light on remaining challenges and spark a productive dialogue that will drive change. I urge you to share this article with your colleagues and describe your own experiences in the comments section for the benefit of others.

Total cost of ownership
During the Business Leadership Coalition work group, there was a great discussion about challenges to implementing sustainable choices. Several hospital representatives said the cheapest product still wins today, regardless of its environmental impact. Unless the sustainable product, service or solution the hospital is considering is less expensive up front, it will lose to a cheaper and less environmentally-preferable option. Everyone in the room agreed that this is a narrow perspective and it needs to change. Purchasing decision-makers should evaluate the total cost of ownership of products and services. This includes how much an item will cost over its useful life, as well as the cost of disposal. I encourage the sustainability and C-level leaders out there to collaborate and redefine the cost models being used to make purchase decisions.

Bring us solutions; demand will follow
Some original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) at the conference asked for a commitment from hospitals to purchase new, more sustainable products before these products are developed. Hospitals could not offer a guarantee, but they are interested in seeing more sustainable offerings from suppliers. At Stryker Sustainability Solutions, we believe strongly that the development of cost-effective, sustainable offerings should be a priority for suppliers. In order for the industry to make the type of progress that’s needed, environmentally preferable products need to be pushed by health care suppliers — and pulled by users.

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