Millions of Dollars Are Wasted in Unused Surgical Supplies

“Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco have put a price tag on that waste: almost $1,000 per procedure examined at the academic medical center.”

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Unused surgical supplies are wasted every year. No surprise there, right? The dollar amount associated with that waste, however, may surprise you. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, have determined that surgical supply waste costs almost $1,000 per procedure at the academic medical center. The waste they measured centers on supplies that were opened but not used during the course of the surgery. Sponges, blue towels, and gloves are among the most unused and discarded supplies.

The researchers estimated that wasted surgical supplies could cost $2.9 million per year for the UCSF neurosurgery department alone – and that is probably an underestimate. As you may have guessed, the research subjects didn’t act in ways they might have if they were unobserved. Nurses reported that they were less likely to open supplies when they knew they were under observation. With that in mind, imagine how high the price tag really is for wasted surgical supplies!

Now, instead of focusing on the negatives, let’s think about the positives if facilities are able to change behaviors.

  • The facility will realize lower inventory costs if surgeries produce fewer opened and unused supplies per procedure.
  • Reduction of environmental impact. According to James Yoon, one of the principal researchers on the study, U.S. operating rooms create more than 2,000 tons of waste per day.
  • Budget Reallocation. Through better management of supplies, more budget can be allocated on hiring more people and improving overall patient care.
  • Improvement to the bottom line. Unopened surplus surgical supplies don’t have to go to waste. Your facility can sell unopened products to WestCMR. Reduction in surplus supplies means you can reallocate your staff’s time, free up supply room space, reduce overstock, and receive money for obsolete products.

While there is little agreement on how hospitals can address operating room waste, the researchers do offer some recommendations such as cost transparency for surgeons (ability to compare cost per procedure relative to other surgeons) and review of surgeons’ preference cards.

Check out the article on for more details and a link to the study.

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