How Tray Optimization Can Help Hospitals Cut Costs in 2023

It’s no secret: Hospitals are still reeling from the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The nursing shortage and high cost of labor continue to plague balance sheets across the country. According to Chief Healthcare Executive, the percentage of hospitals with negative credit ratings jumped to 7% last year, up from 3% in 2021.

If conditions are slow to improve — or worsen — healthcare leaders must find other strategic opportunities to eliminate wasteful spending. While line items like labor attract the lion’s share of attention related to expenses, some unnecessary costs are accruing gradually, in areas like the sterile processing department (SPD). Like a leaky faucet, SPD instrument errors accumulate until they spell hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even millions, in losses each year.

Whatever happens in the SPD affects the OR. This means that errors as seemingly banal as incorrect instrument sets can have an outsized effect on the OR’s ability to generate revenue — which is a key driver of hospital revenue. A 2019 review published in Health Systems identified the monumental financial impact of improving efficiency in US operating rooms. “[ORs] are cost centers, which are responsible for about 60% of total hospital cost… although they generate a large proportion of a hospital’s revenue as well,” the review states. “Therefore any systematic cost reduction in ORs would significantly impact the nation’s economy.”

So how do instrument events add up in terms of cost? Here’s one example: OpFlow™, a SpecialtyCare service partner, worked with a certain North Carolina hospital for 12 months to optimize 40 high-volume instrument sets. The results were remarkable:

  • 17,000 instruments were removed from sets
  • 730,000 fewer instruments were processed annually
  • 3,500 hours of SPD time were saved annually
  • $800,000 in processing costs was saved annually
  • $1,200,000 reduction in instrument replacement costs annually

These findings are not an anomaly. In a 2020 study published in BMJ Quality and Safety, researchers analyzed the number of errors in the SPD over the course of a year at a hospital in the US Southeast. The 700-bed hospital regularly processed 23,000 instruments a month through its SPD. After the 12-month period, the research team found a total of 3,900 defects across 42,799 cases, meaning that just over 9% of cases had at least one defective instrument tray. 

According to this report, “Around 1 in 10 instrument trays are delivered to the operating room (OR) from the SPD with missing instruments, with another 1 in 20 containing broken instruments.” At best, SPD errors create costly delays in the OR; at worst, patients are negatively impacted, increasing the risk of injury and the incidence of malpractice lawsuits.

Missing and broken instruments are not the only problem; excess instruments can also create costs. On average, less than 20% of instruments pulled for a case are used, yet all are recycled back through sterile processing. SPDs cannot keep pace with the growing number of instruments per tray and the number of trays per case, leading to backlog. Backlog can lead to the overuse of flash sterilization or even improper sterilization practices, which can perpetuate the incidence of costly SSIs.

Backlog can also lead to staff attrition. It takes further time and money to recruit and train new staff on complex cleaning and sterilization procedures. Turnover rates can be reduced when the SPD achieves a higher level of efficiency and staff satisfaction.

How to Utilize Tray Optimization and Reduce Costs

At SpecialtyCare, our mission is to make surgery safer, which means making high-level improvements to the SPD. We’re trusted by more than 1,100 hospitals and 13,500 physicians around the US to reduce costs and increase OR efficiency.

Tray optimization is one of many services we provide to improve SPDs. We partner with Opflow™, whose solution has been successful nationwide, with an average instrument reduction of 30-40% across all major surgical service lines.

To find out how your hospital can save money through tray optimization services in 2023, contact us today.