Greening Operating Rooms One Product at a Time

The medical device industry can be part of the solution for sustainable healthcare, according to a speaker at the upcoming MD&M West 2020 conference.

By: Susan Shepard
December 31, 2019

Healthcare organizations are responding regarding their contribution on climate change, said Rob Chase in an interview with MD+DI. Chase, who is the founder and president of NewGen Surgical, explained that plastic production and disposal from single-use disposables for the hospital supply chain generates a large portion of “Scope 3 CO2 emissions.”

Chase will be speaking in the upcoming MD&M West 2020 panel discussion, “Sustainability, Environmental Responsibility, and the Medical Device Community,” on February 11, 2020.

“Why is it important that the medical device industry start to pay attention to sustainability and environmental responsibility?” asked Chase. The answer, he said, is that hospitals understand the disproportionate amount of CO2 emissions they are producing and need help from their supply chain. Recently the largest healthcare sustainability advocacy group, Health Care Without Harm, cited some sobering numbers—4.4% of all global CO2 emissions are contributed by healthcare organizations. Of that percentage, 71% of these CO2 emissions are Scope 3 related to the production, transport, and disposal of goods and services. Hospitals are in the business of delivering patient care, not manufacturing, and so they seek solutions from the greater industry.

To that end, Washington State recently announced the formation of the Washington Health Care Climate Alliance to help find ways to collectively lower emissions. There is a similar alliance among California hospitals. In another case, a regional healthcare system reached out to NewGen Surgical because the local government is requesting solutions to reduce their respective emissions and plastic waste. “These alliances and even legislative efforts are coming, and it’s going to be impacting the medical device industry as the hospitals will be actively looking for solutions to help reduce emissions,” Chase said. “That’s why there needs to be a change in focus in product design and manufacturing and the industry as a whole working to achieve a more responsible production and consumption pattern.”

NewGen Surgical approaches product design with its three-part Smart Sustainable Design process. The first component of the program is performance, Chase said. “That’s having an in-depth, detailed knowledge of the clinical performance criteria that the products need to meet,” he said. It is also important to design devices that look and perform very similarly to existing products. And to ensure ease of adoption, products should be designed to limit any disruption in the current work flow. Chase explained that generally personnel do not have time to learn a different or new step in their established processes. “Our products are designed to minimize the change in workflow or any change in the user experience of what they’re currently used to,” he said.

“The second is sustainability. Can we redesign the traditional product with a more sustainable material?” he continued.

The third is economics, Chase said. NewGen Surgical’s materials are upcycled agricultural and agricultural byproducts, which cost more than fossil fuels. There is no cheaper material than plastic, but its lifecycle can be costly to the environment and its inhabitants, he said. Therefore, the company’s challenge as a manufacturer is to produce the more-sustainable product at a competitive market price so hospitals can make the conversion.

Bringing sustainable devices into hospitals is not an easy task, however. “There are what I call structural barriers to market,” Chase said. “Things like distribution and purchasing agreements—these things that hospitals are tied into how they buy products now and purchasing outside the status quo can be cost prohibitive.”

However, once NewGen Surgical’s products are in the OR, the surgical staff is happy to see the positive changes in their workplace. “They’ve finally got something that they can use to cut out all the plastic waste that they see in every case, every day,” he said. “And our goal is to try and green the OR one product at a time, working upstream in product design so that there’s minimal impact, if any, into the workflow and performance of the product.”

Changing things one product at a time summarizes NewGen Surgical’s philosophy that making small changes adds up to a larger positive impact on the environment. The company has developed the Small Change, Big Impact EPP program, to help hospitals measure the environmental results of the changes they make. For example, a large healthcare system has eliminated six tons of plastic waste and reduced its Scope 3 CO2 emissions by 9,700 kg with the use of the NewGen Surgical needle counter product line, in a little more than a year.

And a national distributor could eliminate 50 tons of polystyrene foam packaging from their procedure kits with the NewGen Surgical plant-based trays. These trays are made with upcycled material and can be recycled with paper—the definition of circular economy.

NewGen Surgical customers use the results generated with the Small Change, Big Impact program for community and industry communications, staff retention, and carbon reduction commitments.

Chase and co-panelists Vipul Dave, senior materials engineering fellow at Johnson & Johnson; Nick Packet, MDM specialist, packaging engineer at Dupont; and Frank Pokrop, senior director, regulatory affairs and quality at Sotero Wireless, will discuss sustainability and environmental responsibility in the medical device industry in the MD&M West panel discussion. Moderated by Len Czuba, president at Czuba Enterprises, it will take place on February 11 from 1:15 to 3 p.m. in Room 210C.

“We at NewGen Surgical feel very passionate about the need for our industry to get on a more sustainable path and to get off our dependence on oil and use more sustainable and renewable materials,” Chase concluded. “That’s what I hope our panel can communicate about the urgency and opportunity and get people thinking about how we can achieve this in healthcare.”

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