While patient safety and care will always remain the top priority in the OR, eco-friendly practices are becoming more important in the surgical suite. What is your facility doing to “go green?”
“Go Green.” From hybrid cars to non-disposable grocery bags to the push to “buy local,” the idea to become more environmentally-friendly seems to be everywhere these days in the consumer world. It’s no surprise, then, that the push to go green has made its way into the operating room.
According to a recent article in The Source, the healthcare sector is the second largest consumer of energy behind the food industry, spending $8.3 billion each year. Consistently, hospitals are among the top ten water users in their community. Meanwhile, healthcare facilities use and handle many toxins and chemical substances—such as cleaning and sterilizing products, drugs—that result in thousands of tons of solid and medical waste each year.
Operating rooms—and hospitals as a whole—are in a unique situation in the quest to become more environmentally-conscious. Unlike many commercial facilities or buildings, hospitals are subject to stricter codes and regulations to maintain a safe environment for their patients and staff. Therefore, in any attempt to “go green,” the OR is charged with not only finding solutions to more environmentally-conscious, but to do so without compromising patient care.
Despite its specific challenges, hospitals are finding they can make green efforts and maintain the highest level of patient care. While you should be sure to check out the a special Surgical Products E-Zine early next year discussing the many areas in which facilities can and have been turning their OR “green,” here are a few examples of the strides hospitals have made to make their practices more eco-friendly.
Managing and reducing waste
According to an article  by Medical News Today, surgeons at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) have been actively involved in waste conservation and energy efficiency activities since 2004.
One of the main efforts has been recycling. A study by Juliana E. Hansen, MD, FACS, chief of plastic surgery and associate professor of surgery at OHSU reports that surgeons and OR nurses at the facility recycle roughly 300 lbs. of uncontaminated paper and plastic products from the university's 21 inpatient operating rooms each day.
The materials recycled include the packaging components that surround sterilized instruments, suture material and gauze pads. Without recycling, these materials would be 300 lbs. of waste.
Aside from recycling, hospitals have reduced waste by “going digital” to limit the amount of paper used in a hospital. Information management systems and OR integration solutions allow data and patient records to be transferred digitally from the OR to different departments within the hospital in a paperless format.
According to a local news source  in Tulsa, OK, where the brand-new Muskogee Hospital was built with green features, the hospital is almost completely digital. “Officials want to be as paperless as possible,” the article reports, “replacing notepads with digital electronic tablets, which is good for the environment and also gives doctors and nurses more time to spend with patients.”
Further, the article reports that Muskogee Hospital was built from recycled materials. In a continued effort to reduce waste, hospitals are not just turning to recycled materials, but recycled equipment. Refurbishing and repairing old equipment, and utilizing re-usable equipment, rather than investing in new is an environmentally-conscious—and cost-effective—solution to reducing overall waste.
Investing in energy-saving technology
The rise of LEDs as lighting solutions in the OR has been one way surgical teams have contributed to the energy-conservations effort of “going green.” As Medical News Today reports, the OHSU operating rooms were refitted with light-emitting diode (LED) lights and low-mercury lamps.
This new technology reportedly saves 340,000 kWh of energy per year. At an average cost of $0.12 per kWh, energy-efficient lighting is saving the hospital approximately $40,000 a year.
At Muskogee Hosptial, energy-saving measures such as a geothermal heating and cooling system was installed, helping the hospital be an expected 24 percent more efficient.
Hospitals, and the OR especially, face special challenges in “greening” its practices. On top of adhering to safety codes and protocols, one of the largest obstacles for hospitals is the initial investment of this energy-saving technology. Few argue that energy-efficient efforts will not pay off in the long-run, but the up-front cost for these solutions can be a large burden to bear for hospitals with increasingly tight budgets.
Yet, while patient safety and care will always remain the top priority in the OR, “going green” is becoming a part of the standard of care for surgical patients. Practicing eco-friendly, “green” practices not only benefits the hospital in terms of cost- and energy-savings, but it enhances the patient experience, and is something more hospitals—and their OR suites—will need to adapt to and invest in for the future.
What is your facility doing to “go green?” Tell me about it at firstname.lastname@example.org