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Evaluating the environmentally preferable
Health care facilities nationwide have begun to tackle the issue of what products come through their doors in two ways: by working towards “environmentally preferable purchasing” (EPP) and by developing a set of common standards for contracting for products.
Health care products are, by and large, purchased through contracts developed by Group Purchasing Organizations (GPOs), which assist hospitals in providing needed supplies, equipment and products at the best possible pricing. Health care GPOs aggregate the purchasing volume of hospital members for various goods and services, and develop contracts with suppliers through which members may buy at group prices and terms. GPOs typically provide contracts for all types of medical supplies, nutrition, pharmacy, and laboratory items.
The GPOs and their hospital members have lacked a common set of standards for environmentally preferable products that can be specified in these contracts. This is partly because until now, few environmental standards existed for products and services in the health care sector. A few health care companies have broken new ground on their own to begin to change this dynamic, including Kaiser Permanente, which in 2010 announced its “Sustainability Scorecard” requiring suppliers to provide environmental data for $1 billion worth of medical equipment and products used in Kaiser hospitals, medical offices and other facilities.
To drive industry-wide change, however, medical supply companies need standardized information and specifications about what products are environmentally preferable, in much the same way that products are specified for safety and efficacy. And doing that requires industry-wide collaboration.
Moving towards industry-wide standards
The development of a common set of standards for environmentally preferable health care products began last year, when Practice Greenhealth, a national membership and networking organization for sustainable health care, launched the Greening the Supply Chain® initiative. Bringing together medical supply companies, the five largest GPOs and individual hospitals, the first task has been to develop and release the Standardized Environmental Questions for Medical Products. Based in part on Kaiser’s groundbreaking Sustainability Scorecard, these questions can inform the decisions in the group procurement process. They are being used in contracts by the five participating GPOs (Amerinet, HealthTrust Purchasing Group, MedAssets, Novation, LLC, and Premier healthcare alliance), which represented over $130 billion in health care spending last year.
The standardized environmental questions ask for information about the resources used to create products, certain chemicals of concern, packaging and end-of-life impact, and waste.