Beat Buyer's Remorse: 18 Wasteful Hospital Purchases to Avoid

Not many hospitals today haven't spent a lot of time exploring ways to cut costs through more efficient care and reduced wasteful spending. Most have begun a shift to deliver care in less costly settings, investing in technology to automate workflows and dialing back on duplicative services and unnecessary testing.

But in some cases, the answer to keeping costs low may have less to do with better budgeting and more to do with bypassing or greatly lessening certain purchases.

Here are 18 purchases hospital experts say may be better left un-bought:

Richard Kunnes, MD, former CMO of Catholic Healthcare Partners and current CEO of the Sevenex Group based in Dublin, Ohio, listed these 11 items he recommends clients strike from their budgets.

1. Femoral closure devices. Instead of using these one-time clamps in cardiac cath labs at around $200 a piece, Dr. Kunnes says thumb pressure from a technical staff person can do the same job. A cath lab that performs 3,000 of these procedures per year would save as much as $600,000 per year.

2. Bottled water. Seems like a small expense, but providing complimentary bottled water at staff meetings and in staff lounges could easily add up to 10,000 bottles per year. That's no small expense for some hospitals when there's a free option from the faucet, or revenue-generating vending machines. Don't forget the environmental impact those bottles have, also, he says.

3. Non-LED lighting. Hospitals spend hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on excess electricity. Swapping existing lighting for LED lights in everything from the emergency department to hallways and parking lots could cut that cost down 50 to 60 percent, and non-LED lights are notorious for their shortlifespans.

4. Coffee. The perk — no pun intended — found in many staff lounges doesn't have to be an expense to hospitals. Instead of giving the coffee away, use vending machines to convert the cost into a revenue. Employees may gripe, but most java drinkers would consider 50 cents a bargain for their cup of joe.

5. Employee events. Perhaps holiday parties and monthly birthday celebrations are large morale boosters, but for cash-strapped hospitals, the $100,000 per year festivities expense could be the difference between retention and layoffs.

6. Floor disinfectant. When margins are dwindling, even the smallest expenses count in the aggregate. Most hospitals wash floors first with a detergent, then with a disinfectant. Dr. Kunnes says research shows the disinfectant doesn't correlate to lower infection risk outside of some uses in operating rooms. Using only the detergent throughout most non-OR parts of the hospital works just as well and cuts floor cleaning costs in half.

7. Medical benefits for ineligible family members. Most hospitals unintentionally fund health benefits to ineligible family members like divorced spouses or nondependent relatives, accounting for 3 to 5 percent of their beneficiaries. Rooting them out could save an extra $200,000 per year or more, Dr. Kunnes says.

8. Disposable pulse oximeters. Unlike cheap, simple paper drinking cups, one-time use pulse oximeters are sophisticated medical equipment that can run $20 to $60 a piece. Switching to reusable oximeters can save hospitals 50 to 80 percent — hundreds of thousands per year.

9. Infant discharge packets. Many delivery units give new moms baskets of freebies to take home, often justifying the knickknacks by printing logos on them and including free sample items like baby formula from vendors. Dr. Kunnes says the goodies are not likely to be as effective at marketing as quality care during delivery, and pushing baby formula get mothers hooked on the convenience and discourage them from breastfeeding, which has been linked to health benefits for the baby.

10. Multicolored slings. Resist the urge to provide multiple color options for patient supplies like slings, he says. "Just one color. Period. You don't need a blue, red and green one," Dr. Kunnes says, claiming hospitals that do lose out on the bulk-purchasing savings.

11. Disposable gait belts. The safety straps medical staff use to take feeble patients walking carry little to no infection risk and ought to be reusable, he says, otherwise hospitals may be throwing away $15 to $40 a piece.

Doreen Stanley, marketing program manager for consulting firm TechSolve, also shared her list of seven least useful purchases for hospitals.

12. Tablets for caregivers. Although they allow staff to enter and access data from virtually anywhere in the hospital, tablets are expensive, breakable pieces of hardware that can be easily stolen and require caregivers to use both hands often. Plus, the added expense of managing tablets from an IT perspective can be large, Ms. Stanley says.

13. Multiple CT or MRI machines. Purchasing additional screening machines may cut wait times, but using one machine at 100 percent capacity is more effective than using several at 25 to 50 percent capacity, Ms. Stanley says.

14. Third-party wait-time software. Money spent on wait-time software solutions would be better spent reducing waiting time through efficient workflows and enhanced intake capacity.

15. Laptop carts from medical suppliers. The same mobile laptop cart priced at $5,000 from a medical supplier could cost a lot less from a non-medical supplier.

16. Excessive storage containers. Don't resort to expensive automated racks, rotating drums, and other equipment to cope with excessive inventory, Ms. Stanley says. Go a step further and ensure inventory drops and stabilizes at just-in-time levels.

17. Nurse locators. Nurses are on the move so often that these devices rarely save steps, and in some cases can add steps if the nurse has already moved on to another room by the time you run to find him or her, Ms. Stanley explains.

18. Bed call light systems with excessive features. Features that are intended for data analysis or improvement of clinical care can remain underutilized or unutilized without proper staffwide training, Ms. Stanley warns.

More Articles on Hospital Supply and Expenses:

Healthcare Consolidation: 6 Strategies to Optimize Labor
Comprehensive Healthcare Transformation Requires Comprehensive Change
Study: Hospital Billing Limits Improved Access for Uninsured

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