The human medical profession is one of the most wasteful of all professions in the United States. There are many factors that contribute to this sad situation, some of which can be controlled while others are unavoidable. In the interest of cleanliness, sterility and disease prevention many supplies are discarded before being completely utilized. And of course the fact that the health insurance companies have allowed some unnecessary waste by merely passing the cost of doing business along to us, the consumer, has not helped the cause. So where does the veterinary profession fit in? We have the same health concerns as our human counterparts. Yet we are also in the position of having to be effective business owners with no one standing in the wings to bail us out if we operate at a loss.
At the Brockton Animal Hospital it has always been our policy to minimize waste, both in an effort to keep our prices down and also to spare an ever challenged environment from being overcome by our discarded medical supplies. So what steps have we taken at the Brockton Animal Hospital over the last several years to fulfill this mission? Suffice to say that while several changes have taken place in an effort to “green” our hospital, we constantly look at additional ways to continue this forward progress. There are three major categories we have studied and planned. First is the area of medical supplies.
This category includes, but is not limited to, syringes, syringe covers, needles, needle protectors, suture material, gauze squares, surgical drapes, gowns, gloves and exam gloves. Initally we look to see if these products include extra and unnecessary packaging choosing those products that are safe, most useful and have the least waste. Although syringes are “disposable” by choosing the best quality products available we are able to clean, resterilize and reuse syringes several times before finally discarding them. When oral syringes are dispensed for at home medications, we offer a per syringe credit when clients return them. Needles, of course, can only be used once. Similarly surgical drapes come in a disposable variety made up of paper, vinyl film as well as self adherent film. An alternative to these is non-disposable cloth. At the Brockton Animal Hospital we use only cloth drapes and gowns which can be cleaned, sterilized and reused many times before discarding. Latex drains that are placed in infected wounds are disposable. However the length of the drain is considerably more than what is usually needed. We use the necessary piece, package and resterilize the remainder for the next use. These are but a few of the many steps we have taken to reduce our waste. The labor expended to reuse and avoid wasting products is considerable. Although, from a profit standpoint this type of conservation may not be in the best interest of our bottom line, it has greatly reduced the amount of medical waste we discard on a weekly basis. It has also allowed our practice to avoid charging each one of our clients a “medical disposal fee” as most other practices do.
The other two areas of greening involve shrinking our “carbon footprint”, the amount of energy we use to keep our hospital running and the disposal of expired and unused pharmaceuticals and medical supplies. We will take a look at those areas in upcoming posts.