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MSU study reveals thousands of dollars are wasted at every operating room surgery

Posted at 9:57 AM, Mar 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-30 11:58:28-04

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Research conducted by Michigan State University and Rutgers University revealed that an average of $1,800 is wasted at every operating room surgery.

"Our objective was to understand how do hospitals manage the supplies that are needed for their surgeries," said Anand Nair, faculty in the Broad College of Business.

Nair and his fellow researchers spent more than 250 hours oberserving a hospital's operating room. They witnessed the planning, preparation, and execution of 92 surgeries.

"Typically, when you have a surgery, you would have something like a card, which we call physician preference card, in which all the items that are needed will be listed. Whatever that surgeon needs, that will be listed, and they should be brought into the surgery," he said.

They discovered that those physician preference cards sometimes are not updated.

"And those items are being brought in every single time when there's a surgery going on. And many of these items are not being used. You have it in the list, but they're not getting used when the surgery is going on," Nair explained. "The other side of the coin would be that you don't have the required items in the list. So you may or may not have, let's say, a few items that you actually need in the surgery. And every time surgery happens, somebody has to go out and get it from the supply room."

According to Nair, when this happens it's counted as time wasted and unplanned costs.

"So there's inventory implication. There is usage of time, capacity, utilization of people. All those things put together account for certain amount of money. So we noticed that about 10 minutes, every surgery, you're spending on the supply related issues to get the supplies, right," he said.

Waste also occurs when certain supplies come packaged together. Surgeons may only use one item from the pack and then the rest go to waste.

James Grant is the Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield Michigan. He was an anesthesiologist for 30 years and says trying to sterilize packaged items can be very costly.

"It's not like, you know, we can just scrub it down with soap and water. Sterilizing is a very aggressive procedure with specific wrappings, with specific safety measures, with specific quality controls. So we do everything we can. Anything that can be sent back and reused, clearly we reuse it," said Grant.

The former anesthesiologist understands that there can be a lot of waste, but it's part of what makes surgery safer.

"It's part of the cost of doing surgery. We can't just have what we're going to need, because if all of a sudden there's an acute blood loss, there's no time to start looking for instruments. There's no time to start looking for extra sutures," he said.

To avoid waste, instead of throwing medical supplies away, many hospitals send them to underserved countries that may need them.

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