Look to savings from single-use device reprocessing to alleviate post-pandemic strains

While the public health threat of the pandemic is giving us a temporary reprieve, it has exposed costly structural weaknesses in hospitals and produced a new set of problems. Some of these include staffing issues and supply shortages. With the addition of the instability caused by inflation and Russia’s war in Ukraine, supply chain issues and shortages are expected to continue.

Now is a good time to enact all possible solutions, including one valuable tool in maximizing supply availability and efficiency—reprocessing.

The power of a reprocessing strategy

Single-use device reprocessing is the practice of sending certain single-use-labeled devices to a reprocessor after they have been used, and then buying them back after reprocessing, testing and sterilization at a much lower price than a new device would cost.

Angie Sims

The practice is tightly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “More important, the reprocessing industry has a 20+-year track record of supplying reprocessed devices that fail even less frequently than new devices and pose no added threat to patient safety,” says Angie Sims, VP, Strategic Accounts, HealthTrust. “Almost all U.S. hospitals use single-use device reprocessing to reduce costs and free up resources for investments in patient care, new technology, staff education and more.”

Sims has spent more than 20 years of her career involved in reprocessing and has seen the savings firsthand. “I have helped hospitals adopt the practice and achieve substantial savings within weeks of starting the program—some celebrating savings of more than $1 million per year,” she notes. “I have also seen hospitals struggle to sustain their savings when they don’t manage their programs well.”

Having a solid program in place not only results in cost savings, but also in reduced environmental harm and increased supply chain resiliency, without increasing risk to the patient. In this new post-pandemic world, it also helps prevent supply vulnerability. “Reprocessed products are available from domestic reprocessors when supply chain shortages produce back-orders on new products,” says Sims. “This should be a key aspect of a post-pandemic supply chain strategy.”

How to maximize the benefit

“I have worked with hospitals where everybody stood behind the practice,” says Sims. “But a closer look revealed that new products were not brought online, very few reprocessed products were bought and utilized, and devices were damaged before they were sent to the reprocessor.”

Indeed, industry averages suggest that due to suboptimal reprocessing programs, hospitals only realize between 25% and 35% of their savings potential.

To maximize the benefit of a reprocessing program, strategies must be enforced, and results must be monitored. “In many cases, hospitals will find that they can triple their savings by going back to basics and working with a reprocessing partner to optimize the program,” says Sims. She suggests that members enact these pillars of a healthy reprocessing program:

  • Collection compliance. Hospital departments must diligently work to collect all devices from procedures their reprocessor has clearance to reprocess. For example, some reprocessable devices in electrophysiology yield savings of more than $1,000 per device, so failing to place even one of these in the reprocessing collection system is costly.
  • Device protection. Frequently, reprocessors collect devices that are technically compromised (for example, their tips are bent or kinked, or parts break off) because they are not handled with proper care. Devices that haven’t retained their integrity are rejected at the reprocessing plant.
  • Buy-back compliance. To realize savings from a reprocessing program, the service line and the hospital must buy back the lower-priced device from the reprocessor. Even if staff is good at collecting used devices, no money is saved unless the reprocessed devices are prioritized in the purchasing system. The reprocessor’s device and pricing information must be loaded into the purchasing system and given priority when reordering, and staff must be instructed to pull the reprocessed devices for procedures.
  • Program governance. Maintaining a strong reprocessing program requires constant monitoring. Establish it with champions at clinician and C-suite levels as part of a committee that holds regular meetings to identify problems and opportunities. Make use of reprocessor-provided data to identify gaps in collections/buyback and new products. Make sure a reprocessing policy has been formulated and communicated to all relevant staff.
  • Device availability. A reprocessor needs to get FDA clearance to reprocess every device individually. This means that some reprocessors may have a wider variety of devices available for reprocessing than others, increasing the savings realized from the program. A reprocessor that gets clearance for a new device may instantaneously add another $500 in savings per procedure. Make sure to choose the reprocessor that has the most clearances (for expensive devices) in each area of the hospital.
  • Competing suppliers. Hospitals often miss out on their potential reprocessing savings because a competing supplier cautions against reprocessing or steers them in a more expensive direction. Do the math to discover what is best for your organization from a quality and cost perspective.
  • Clinical integration. Including physicians in the discussion is very important but often forgotten. Ultimately, the physician decides which devices to use.

“Single-use device reprocessing is likely the most successful circular economy solution in U.S. healthcare,” says Sims. “Many hospitals could be gaining a lot more from their reprocessing programs than they do.”

Reprocessing suppliers on contract:

  • Medline Industries #4670
  • Renovo Inc. (Provision) #66622
  • SterilMed Inc. #4672
  • Stryker Sustainability Solutions #4673
  • SureTek Medical #7016
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