Reprocessing for the Future: 10 Best Practices for a Hospital Reprocessing Program

Every healthcare facility faces the same challenge: to reduce costs without sacrificing the delivery of quality care. As a result of dwindling healthcare reimbursements, and increased awareness of environmental sustainability, more facilities are turning to reprocessed single-use devices as an effective resource management strategy. Reprocessing programs are used by more than half of U.S. hospitals and all seventeen of the U.S. News & World Report "Honor Roll" hospitals.

As an industry, we have changed the way hospitals look at SUDs. Practices have evolved for hospitals to safely participate in reprocessing and remanufacturing programs while making smarter purchasing decisions and reducing their environmental footprint. It's easier to become a healthier hospital today than it was as recently as ten, even five years ago.

History of reprocessing
Reprocessing as a top-performing sustainability initiative for hospitals has come a long way since the industry's inception in the late 1980s. Today, SUD reprocessing is FDA-regulated and codified in federal law. A reprocessed device requires FDA 510(k) clearance to ensure it is substantially equivalent to the original device.

Until recently, partnerships between original equipment manufacturers and third-party reprocessing companies were unheard of. In 2009, device manufacturer Stryker forged a new direction by acquiring Ascent Healthcare Solutions, now Stryker Sustainability Solutions. Even a company historically critical of reprocessing, Ethicon Endo-Surgery, got into the game when parent Johnson & Johnson announced its acquisition of the reprocessor SterilMed in 2011.

In order to deliver hospital-centered, truly sustainable medical device solutions, it is imperative for medical technology suppliers to understand the conditions under which healthcare providers pursue device purchases and consumption. Suppliers must offer unified solutions that support hospitals' need to reduce costs. Companies that once competed for market share have now joined forces to offer more value-based, integrated solutions including both original and reprocessed devices. Strong partnerships between suppliers and healthcare facilities are one of the best ways to realize savings and reduce waste.

Impacting the industry
Members of the Association of Medical Device Reprocessors help divert an estimated 9 million pounds of medical waste from landfills over the course of a year. Healthcare facilities are the second leading contributor of waste in the U.S., producing more than 4 billion pounds of waste annually. According to Practice Greenhealth, operating rooms are some of the most resource-intensive places in hospitals, generating between 20 and 30 percent of a facility's waste. Much of that is disposed of as medical waste, which costs 10 to 15 times more to dispose than regular waste. Using reprocessed medical devices can help mitigate these numbers while also reducing costs.

Remanufactured devices are about half the cost of original manufactured single-use devices. It is estimated that the healthcare industry would save nearly $2 billion every year if just one or two percent of devices marked "single-use" by device manufacturers were able to be reprocessed through FDA-regulated third-party reprocessors. Smart purchasing decisions, including the use of reprocessed devices, allow hospitals to deploy more of their scarce resources towards improving patient care through quality initiatives, such as hiring more nurses or purchasing much-needed equipment.

Achieving maximum potential
Many healthcare facilities recognize that reprocessing is one of the most impactful cost-containment strategies. However, in order to realize maximum savings, hospitals need to manage a successful program with the right supplier partner.

The ultimate potential of reprocessing is achieved over time, and depends on the extent of program implementation and engagement. It is not uncommon for the results of reprocessing programs to vary substantially between facilities of a similar size. One hospital may realize more than $600,000 in annual savings and reduce waste by 9,000 pounds; whereas another hospital of the same size may only realize $20,000 in annual savings and reduce waste by 70 pounds.  

The key behind this difference is engagement. Hospitals that ask the appropriate questions, follow best practices and work closely with their reprocessing partner are more likely to experience better results. What are the top things to keep in mind when you implement a reprocessing program? Consider the following:

1. Select the right partner. As the industry develops, reprocessing companies increasingly differ in terms of how they operate and what they can offer. Not all third-party reprocessors are equal. Failure to choose the right partner could produce unintended consequences, including supply chain disruptions and inefficiencies, frustrations among staff, interference in the daily routines of your clinical practice and suboptimal savings. Look for a supplier that can offer integrated solutions with both original and reprocessed devices. These suppliers will work with you every step of the way as a true hospital partner that watches the bottom line of the entire facility.

2. Executive support. It must come from the top. Executive support for and involvement in reprocessing is vital. Leaders need to be invested, and make their commitment known. Facility leaders should not underestimate the value of their presence; their support lends credibility and shows that this is an important commitment for staff to take seriously.

3. Engage staff members. A key to reprocessing success is having initial frontline buy-in from staff, which stems from the support of the directors and managers. Make sure all staff members are engaged in the program and fully understand the benefits of the outcome. Create goals for your staff to achieve and hold them accountable for reaching them. The concept is simple: the more engaged your staff is, the more savings you’ll produce.

4. Plan and promote.
Work with your reprocessing partner to establish a program that fits your hospital's needs, and promote its value and benefits to your staff. Create visual materials to increase awareness and drive positive reprocessing behavior. Promoting the program early will help get everyone excited and engaged.

5. Educate. It is critical to separate fact from misinformation or personal impression in the beginning. Help your staff understand the program, your goals, and any industry information by developing a comprehensive education plan for everyone involved. The savings potential is too great to be offset by inaccuracies. The more you know, the stronger program your program and its results, will be.

6. Establish open communication.
Keep your staff up-to-date and be sure to address questions regularly. Seamless internal communication strengthens team camaraderie and the achievement of a program's success. When the staff is aware of the overall picture, they will understand how reprocessing enables essential savings that can be redirected to the facility’s bottom line.

7. Track progress. Identify goals early and set a tracking and reporting system to follow the program’s progress and success. Doing so will aid in the program's overall growth and will help the staff to continuously be excited about reaching major milestones. What gets measured gets improved.

8. Adjust appropriately. No hospital employs a reprocessing program perfectly from day one. There's a learning curve and a commitment to realize optimal savings potential. Staff members, physicians and leaders should continue to collaborate on ways to achieve sustainability goals throughout the program, and incorporate adjustments accordingly.

9. Use your partnership. Your supplier partner will provide a representative who will help to see that your program grows and achieves optimal savings. Working with your reprocessing representative on an ongoing basis is just as important as selecting the appropriate partner. Proactively communicate with your rep and perform routine maintenance on your program. Active dialogue will lead to performance tweaks that will help you steadily grow your program to realize the greatest possible savings.

10. Think holistically. Savings possibilities from a reprocessing program exist in all parts of the hospital and aren’t just limited to a single facility. Constantly enhancing and expanding a reprocessing program is an essential step toward achieving true healthcare sustainability.

Implementing a reprocessing program is one of the best ways for a hospital to achieve its economic and environmental sustainability goals without compromising patient safety or quality of care. You can make a difference, both within your facility and the healthcare industry as a whole. Work with your staff and your reprocessing partner to become a healthier hospital.  

Lars Thording is the senior director of marketing and public affairs for Stryker Sustainability Solutions, an industry leader in third-party medical device reprocessing and remanufacturing.  For more information, visit sustainability.stryker.com and protectoursavings.com.  

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