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Global Public Health
Health Care Sustainability Gets a Shot in the Arm
Health Care Sustainability Gets a Shot in the Arm
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Sustainable Purchasing among Hospitals is on the Rise

Vaccine season is in full swing and your local hospital is probably advertising free flu shots. But this fall something’s different. If your provider is like the 300 global health care professionals my company, Johnson & Johnson, and Harris Poll recently surveyed, chances are your hospital has ‘gone green.’

Sustainability in the health care space has been on the rise for some time, and, according to the new study, 54 percent of health care professionals across six countries (United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Brazil and Japan) now report their hospital already incorporates sustainability into its purchasing decisions. This means that, in addition to price, quality, and outcomes, a majority of health care purchasers are also evaluating products based on environmental criteria, and that they are looking for products that are more energy efficient, free of materials of concern like PVC (polyvinyl chloride), and have a lower environmental impact after use.

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While this mindset has existed among select practitioners for years, the exciting news is that 80 percent of global respondents now expect their hospitals will consider sustainability when purchasing products within the next two years – a significant increase from the current 54 percent.

Why the anticipated boom? I believe new and continued collaborations among suppliers, Group Purchasing Organizations (GPOs), and health care providers to provide standardized tools has given hospitals the “shot in the arm” they need to prioritize Environmental Purchasing Policies (EPPs). While sustainability was once seen as “nice to have”, organizations such as Practice Greenhealth and the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council have helped hospitals see the business case for sustainability, and our survey found that global health care professionals now associate real, tangible benefits with “going green”:

  • Help protect hospital staff (78 percent)
  • Make overall good financial sense (69 percent),
  • Serve as an important factor for patients when choosing a hospital (60 percent), and
  • Improve health outcomes (55 percent).

This news is great for the organizations that have championed the development and purchase of sustainable products, but it also poses new challenges. To sustain and even increase the adoption of EPPs, we must increase the availability of environmentally responsible products to match growing demands and help decision-makers prove the benefits of sustainability.

In the past several years, companies like Sterilmed, BD and Kimberly-Clark have worked hard to increase the sustainable product pipelines, yet global health care professionals report cost (80 percent) and availability (69 percent) as major barriers to purchasing more of these products. At Johnson & Johnson, we are working to apply lifecycle thinking across our entire company, and have instituted new standards for assessing new products and packaging against environmental criteria. Our Earthwards® approach has also recognized sustainability improvements for more than 55 products across our Johnson & Johnson portfolio, and we are working to address another interesting finding from the Harris Poll: nearly all (92 percent) of U.S. health care professionals want manufacturers to provide more information about the sustainable benefits of medical products.

Helping hospitals prove the benefits of sustainability may sound easy, but the truth is 82 percent of global respondents believe the return-on-investment (ROI) in ‘green’ initiatives is not always measurable in financial terms and only 33 percent said their hospitals tracks the ROI of sustainable products.

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When it comes to purchasing medical devices, products and services, there are often costs beyond the price, such as storage, maintenance, and disposal costs that are frequently overlooked when calculating ROI. This means hospitals may unknowingly be paying more in the long term for a product with a lower sales cost, and new tools are required to evaluate and educate providers about the lifecycle costs of a medical device. Toward this end, I am proud to join leading suppliers, GPOs, and health care providers to contribute to Practice Greenhealth’s new Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) Framework, which is scheduled to be released in 2015.

With these tools and a growing commitment from medical product manufacturers, it is my hope health care will rise to meet its own expectations. A 50 percent increase in sustainable purchasing would have tremendous implications for the health of patients, the environment, and hospitals’ bottom lines. If it takes a shot in the arm to get it done, I’ll be first in line.

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Erol Odabasi is the Director for MD&D Sustainability at Johnson & Johnson. In that role Erol leads key programs of the Medical Device and Diagnostic Sector sustainability strategy in alignment with Johnson & Johnson Healthy Future 2015 Goals.

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