Improving Human and Environmental Health: A Call for Environmentally Preferred Health Care Sourcing

The use of asbestos traces back thousands of years when Egyptians used the naturally occurring flame retardant to embalm bodies of pharaohs.

By the middle ages, Europeans were using it in weaponry to catapult flaming bags of pitch and tar over city walls. As industrialization in the 1800s grew, mining for asbestos also grew. Doctors began to suspect it might be the cause of lung damage in miners, but it wasn’t until 1906 that it was first documented as the cause of death after an autopsy revealed large amounts of asbestos fibers in the victim’s lungs.

It takes a long time to remove hazards from the world’s supply chain and from the products we purchase and the buildings we live and work in. Nowhere is this more concerning than in the health care industry.

With that in mind, industry stakeholders have begun identifying chemicals they feel should be eliminated from the health care supply chain due to their potential effects on human health and the environment.

In 2017, Vizient launched its environmentally preferred sourcing program by adopting a standard set of 23 environmentally preferred product attributes (first established by Kaiser Permanente) and began requesting that suppliers report environmentally preferred attribute data to help track and identify those products and services that are safer for humans and environmental health. The 23 attributes include harmful chemicals like phthalates which are linked with asthma, allergies and cognitive and behavioral problems and certain metals which harm brain development, increase the risk of cancer or cause high blood pressure, infertility or decreased kidney and brain function. The attributes also address environmental sustainability with requirements around the reuse of products and packaging made of post-consumer waste.

Adopting the standard set of 23 environmentally preferred product attributes is the first step in the journey to healthier health care environments. We encourage all hospitals, health systems, suppliers and group purchasing organizations to standardize their supply chain reporting activity to this single set of attributes. The next steps are incentivizing health care suppliers to adopt them as well as educating hospitals and health systems to shop them, and it all starts with transparency.

Environmentally preferred sourcing

As the nation’s leading health care performance improvement company and largest health care group purchasing organization, Vizient is leveraging its relationship with health care suppliers so that they adopt these attributes.

After adopting a standard set of 23 environmentally preferred product attributes in 2017, in 2019, Vizient announced the expansion of its environmentally preferred sourcing program with the launch of the nation’s largest, most comprehensive portfolio of environmentally preferred furniture. This year, we’re pleased to announce a new environmentally preferred category in facilities and construction—floor coverings.

And last month, we began to implement environmentally preferred language into virtually all our medical/surgical and physician preference contracts, formalizing our request that suppliers provide products that meet requirements of the 11 chemical attributes and 2 waste management attributes out of the 23 environmentally preferred product attributes. If suppliers cannot meet this standard, we ask them to provide a plan and timeline for when they will meet it.

Since Vizient’s contract portfolio represents more than $100 billion in annual purchasing volume for hospitals across the nation, we’re hopeful these efforts will have a significant positive impact how suppliers do business in the future.

Our hospital members can view and filter our product catalog according to these attributes during any product search, helping them identify and choose products and suppliers best suited to their needs. By creating more transparency, hospitals and caregivers can prioritize their purchase of products and services that are safer for patients, hospital and health care employees and the environment.

Rome was not built in a day. Asbestos was not eradicated in a century’s time. Change does not happen overnight, but with analytics-enabled technology, it can happen more quickly than ever. Vizient began collecting product data from contracted suppliers on certain environmentally preferred attributes in 2017. Since then, the supplier compliance rate in the submission of environmentally preferred attributes has reached 92%.

Demanding sustainable solutions

We must also work to educate the health care community so that they know the risks in their supply chain and what potentially harmful chemicals and materials may be in the products and supplies they commonly use. As an industry, we must be sure we are not inadvertently harming those we are trying to heal by exposing patients, family members and care givers with toxic substances, hazardous waste and pollution whether it’s found within the water, ground or air.

Vizient recently published a case study that created a scalable, data-driven and standardized approach to help health care organizations advance sustainable procurement using the 23 attributes. The analysis model enables facilities to evaluate, monitor and remove harmful chemicals from their supply chain at the organization, facility, department, category and individual product levels, to protect both patient and staff safety. One example is a children’s hospital in the northwest that converted to a phthalate-free IV bag, not only providing a more environmentally friendly option, but also one that saved them $200,000 annually.

The Vizient Environmental Advisory Council, made up of member health care organizations, recently invited all Vizient member hospitals to prioritize the following four key environmentally preferred initiatives:

Adopt Vizient’s standardized environmentally preferred attributes, which are rooted in safer chemical utilization, waste reduction and the disclosure of product characteristics

Collaborate and educate suppliers on the preferred attributes and their importance

Incorporate environmentally preferred criteria such as product/service availability, attribute compliance and supplier-specific data into periodic business review

Promote the transparency of supplier-submitted data to expedite the adoption of environmentally preferred products and services

I invite and encourage every hospital, health system and health care organization to agree to do the same. In the end, it’s up to all of us to persuade suppliers to make a change.

As health care organizations, our sourcing practices directly impact the environment and the health of the communities we serve. To operate responsibly, it is essential that we consider how our purchases impact our patients, care givers and the environment. It is the first promise of health care—the oath to do no harm.

About the author:

With more than 10 years of health care experience, Cristina Indiveri, MS, is senior director of strategic programs at Vizient where she provides strategic and operational leadership for Novaplus brand management. In addition, Cristina guides the strategy of Vizient’s industry leading Environmentally Preferred Sourcing program which enables responsible sourcing decisions through the broadest, most cost-effective portfolio of environmentally preferred products.

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