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Procuring Population Health

By Laura Vernon, sustainability consultant

The world and its inhabitants cannot thrive if the environment is polluted and dangerous; therefore improving the health of the natural world is a foundational step in improving the health of the population. And as our health system begins a shift towards encouraging population health as a way to reduce health care costs, the focus on a healthy environment must take on added urgency.

Karen Conway, immediate past AHRMM board chair and vice president, Healthcare Value at GHX enthusiastically states, “Many of the decisions made in procurement result in waste streams or increased energy usage. More sustainable procurement practices can help reduce unnecessary purchases and source products and services that reduce the negative impacts on the environment.”

The Purchasing Power of the Health Care Community

Think about the purchasing power of the health care community—on average, hospitals spent $3.8 million per hospital on medical supplies in 2013, which was 15% of total expenses. Some hospitals attributed as much as 40% of their expenses to supplies, according to research published in Medical Care Research and Review last year. One study found hospitals on average spent $4,470 per admission on supply expenses.”

The Importance of Environmentally Friendly Products

The purchasing power of the health care supply chain is a testament to its importance and how busy health care supply chain professionals are. However, with great power comes an even greater responsibility to protect the environment and its people. Are health care supply chain professionals knowledgeable of the toxic chemicals, such as DEHP, BPOEs, BPA, that are present in medical devices and other purchased products? Do they know how the materials purchased will be disposed and what impact it may have on the environment? How many know whether #5 polypropylene plastic is recyclable or not? There are a lot of nuances in understanding which materials and products are less toxic for patients, or are “environmentally preferable.”

Busy professionals need information that is vetted, trusted and is easy to access when on-the-go—things are looking up in that regard. Since the health care sector launched efforts into Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) almost 20 years ago, with the leadership of Practice Greenhealth, today most GPOs (Group Purchasing Organizations) have dedicated resources to assist their members in navigating this complexity. There are dozens of organizations that certify products for meeting certain sustainability standards (GreenSeal, Forest Certified, Antibiotic Free, etc.). 

MindClick has pulled together a database containing environmental health profiles of mainstream products currently used in healthcare. In partnership with Vizient and Premier, the rapidly growing database already contains medical and nonmedical products from over 80 suppliers covering more than 100 product categories.

Making the Case for Sustainability

The products and materials we purchase matter– they do have a footprint. Our job is to recognize the population health impacts of that footprint and minimize it while also reducing costs and continuously improving care.

If we worked together and collectively asked for safer materials, as population health should be a primary concern for those working in the health care supply chain, we could make a difference. AHRMM is committed to helping its members on this journey, but the organization understands that its members need information, resources, and direction. To that end, AHRMM is working a list of projects for the integration of products and services that are considered low-hangers--projects that have been widely and relatively easily implemented by others across the country, which resulted in positive sustainability outcomes of cost, environmental and community health benefits.

Organizations that prioritize population health often find these efforts congruent with environmental sustainability programs which aim to promote clean air, clean water, clean landscapes, and clean food. These organizations then find it easier to align their sustainability and health promotion goals, and for example switch to green cleaners, serve antibiotic-free chicken, specify flame-retardant-free furniture, or manage a robust and cost-effective recycling program. 

What You Can Do In Your Organization

To help you get started, the first project on the list is Purchasing for Health: Aligning Mission with Action.  

  • Does your organization have a sustainable, preferable purchasing policy awareness?
  • Is including EPP criteria a part of the CQO, value analysis process?
  • Is supply chain a part of your organization’s green team?
  • Do you know your GPO’s sustainability expert contact? (If not, call them!).
AHRMM would love to hear from members as they develop these tools.