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Lacking medical supplies can be disastrous for any hospital. Whether it’s running low on medications or lacking lead aprons for radiation protection, this will lead to subpar patient care and potentially affect the hospital’s reputation. These are the kinds of problems that could be solved by other hospitals with a surplus of supplies. While the concept of medical surplus may seem positive at a glance, it often isn’t as much of a blessing as one would think. In fact, the US often wastesup to $765 billion in usable medical equipment each year. This is the unfortunate fate of most medical surplus; it is simply thrown away. This should be a shock to anyone, and looking into why this happens is the first step in learning how to stop it.


Why waste supplies?

The most obvious detriment of all this medical waste is the fact that it denies perfectly good supplies to people in need. The second big detriment is that it drives up operating costs because of the constant ordering of new supplies and equipment. Healthcare isn’t exactly becoming more affordable for most people, so both of these issues are of great importance.


The operating room is a clear culprit for medical waste. Nearly$1,000 worth of equipment is wasted per procedure. Or, looking at it another way, operating rooms across the nation waste approximately 2,000 tons of supplies on any given day. The most commonly discarded supplies are things like unopened gloves, sponges, and towels, but this doesn’t prevent more expensive items, such as screws, from being discarded, as well. The reason for this is that once a package is opened, it is “contaminated,” but simply being a bit more conservative with supplies could go a long way toward helping this situation.


Upgrading equipment is another reason for frequent waste. When a new model is introduced, it’s all too common for older ones, even ones in perfect working order, to be discarded. Additionally, any supplies that have entered a patient’s room, even if left unopened, are considered “contaminated” and thrown away. A hospital changing vendors can also lead to supplies from the previous vendor being tossed because of infection protocol. There are currently far too many ways to waste valuable supplies.


What can be done?

Firstly, most hospitals can take greater steps to reduce their waste. For example, surgeons and nurses can communicate the supplies a surgeon prefers to have on hand before an operation to cut down on extraneous supplies from the beginning. Feedback systems within hospitals could also be helpful so that each department can compare their supply use with the others and share strategies.


The best solution, however, would be for surplus supplies to be donated to the needy rather than simply discarded. Elizabeth McLelan, a former nurse, establishedPartners for World Health to see to this for the past 11 years. Her organization collects surplus supplies and ships them all throughout the globe. They also help provide healthcare and oversee medical training in developing countries. They are currently engaged in their “Project 10,000,” which is providing sterile supply kits for birth and newborn care.


Of course, individuals can make a great impact to solve the medical surplus problem, as well. Unneeded supplies from home can always be donated, and medical suppliers can donate usable supplies from damaged containers that would otherwise be discarded. Unopened medical supplies can typically be donated at any location that accepts other donations, though checking online for locations that ship internationally is a good option.  


The way medical surplus is often treated is a problem of great concern, but anyone who is willing can make a difference.

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