6 Ways an Operating Room Can Become More Environmentally Friendly

Going green is becoming pertinent in all facets of the world today, hospitals included. Hospital operating rooms are areas that certainly could be more environmentally friendly, says Brian Gantwerker, MD. Dr. Gantwerker — who operates at The Craniospinal Center of Los Angeles, Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., and Northridge (Calif.) Hospital Medical Center — gives six ways an OR can become more environmentally friendly.

1. Adjust lighting. An OR's lights are on for most of, if not all of, the time, Dr. Gantwerker says. Certain rooms have to be ready to go, like trauma and emergency rooms, but installing light censors for when people walk in could cut back lighting over-usage.

2. Go paperless. The federal government is awarding monetary incentives to hospitals and physician practices that are adopting electronic health record systems, and the effect could also save trees and the antiquated paper charts. Physicians who don't want to transition to a paperless system, though, could cause challenges.

"People who don't use computers or who are slow adopters are potentially a huge hurdle," Dr. Gantwerker says. "They require extra training, but they also need a lot of encouragement to adopt a computerized system."

3. Unplug non-essential surgery equipment. Unplugging items that don't need to be turned on is a simple way to reduce an OR's carbon footprint, Dr. Gantwerker says. Suction devices, drills and bipolar machines could potentially save energy by being unplugged while not in use, but the essential surgical equipment, such as the ventilator, has to stay plugged.

4. Conserve supplies.
Managing the supply inventory is a staple of effectively managing an OR's finances, but it reduces waste altogether, too. Trying not to open an excess number of sponges and monitoring paper towel waste are key, but Dr. Gantwerker adds that a patient's needs still take priority.

5. Selectively enable computer sleep modes. Computers and monitors are vital to every OR, but when they are not in use or the OR is empty, enabling sleep modes is the environmentally conscious thing to do, Dr. Gantwerker says. He cautions that sleep modes ought to be disabled during operations, though, as surgeons will not want to see computers enter sleep mode while X-rays and other essential images are loaded onto the screens.

6. Lead by example. Dr. Gantwerker says hospital leaders need to instill the environmentally friendly approach by example. Shutting off their office lights and computers at night and asking for feedback from the OR staff are easy ways to go green. "Old habits are one the biggest hurdles to reducing energy costs and making hospitals green," Dr. Gantwerker said. "A lot of progress has to be made. ORs in general are so critically important that people don't want to modify them, but there are ways hospitals can save energy."

Related Articles on OR Efficiency:

Why Turnover Time May Not Be Best Bet for Improving OR Efficiency
AORN Journal: OR Teams' Collaborative Approach Can Improve Quality
How Natural Sunlight Can Positively Affect the Operating Room

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