Winning the Sale for Reusable Surgical Textiles (Conclusion)


(Photo: Nancy Jenkins)

Nancy Jenkins |

SHAWNEE MISSION, Kan. — The benefits of reusable surgical gowns and textiles over disposable single-use items are proven: They offer enhanced comfort, cost, performance, and are environmentally preferred. In addition, according to Standard Textile, when hospitals convert their operating rooms (ORs) to a reusable program, they can reduce waste by 90%, since OR waste is primarily infectious (red-bag) waste and costs as much as 30 cents a pound to landfill.

In 2015, most hospitals have joined the sustainability bandwagon and formed green teams or hired sustainability officers whose sole purpose is to implement and measure recycling and waste reduction programs.

Given these facts, sales of reusable surgical textiles should be skyrocketing. The reality, however, is mixed. While some healthcare operators have seen an increase in sales, just as many are experiencing flat or declining sales for reusables in the OR.

But when hospitals do make the commitment to convert, experts say, they love the difference reusables provide.


“It is critical for a reusable OR program to show a lower cost than a disposable program,” according to Jonathan Feldman, director of customer solutions for Medline Industries. “For that to happen, it’s important to connect with the supply chain decision-makers as soon as possible. If you don’t do your research first, you can significantly extend the timeline for making the sale.

“For example, if the hospital’s OR contract is tied into a larger contract, the hospital may be unwilling to take the penalty [or price increase/loss of rebate] that would happen if there is a switch to a reusable program.”


So you’ve won the OR business for several hospitals and are successfully serving reusable surgical packs. Business is thriving, but there are a few challenges:

  • Tape on drapes is difficult to remove in the laundry process
  • Surgeons are cutting up drapes
  • Expensive gowns and drapes and reusable items somehow disappear in the system
  • Surgical instruments come back with the laundry

The issue of lost surgical instruments found in the laundry is a big win-win for the client. That’s because the laundry can save the hospital thousands of dollars each year by returning those instruments that would otherwise wind up in the landfill. Set up a process in your soil-sort area where instruments are stored for each client and returned at a later date. You will be a hero.

A reusable program won’t be more cost-effective than a disposable one if product doesn’t stay in the system for the recommended 50 to 75 turns.

“We offer reusable high-tech gowns with excellent barrier protection,” says Ed McCauley, CEO of United Hospital Services. “In order to track items, the answer is to bar-code the product, or some will sew in a RFID chip. However, gowns will still disappear, which means the client needs to pay for the lost product. If that happens very often, the losses mount, and the client isn’t going to be happy.”

Feldman speaks to the complaint about surgeons cutting up drapes. “There are typically four or five options on drapes. But if a surgeon wants a specific fenestration size, and the drape doesn’t match, that surgeon is going to cut the drape. When that drape is a $3 disposable one, it’s not a big deal. When it’s a $100 drape designed for 75 uses, that’s a problem.”

How do operators handle the abuse and loss of expensive reusable surgical textiles? It’s an ongoing challenge.

“To ensure a win-win program, I recommend setting up a linen committee that meets once a month in the beginning to once a quarter after the program has a good start,” says Charlie Popp, RN, BSN, nurse consultant for Standard Textile. Popp says the committee needs to include representatives from the OR, the linen room and ancillary departments, as well as clinical and operations representatives from the laundry.

“Education for staff in the beginning is crucial. It’s important to take a proactive approach that keeps everyone informed on any problems, changes in staff or procedures.”


Education, customer service and advocacy are the best means of ensuring a reusable surgical program is a win-win proposition for the laundry and the hospital. It was remarkable to this author that the difference between hospitals with reusable surgical programs and those without hinged primarily on one factor—whether or not there were internal advocates. These advocates were typically nurses who had positive past experiences with reusable surgical textiles.

The bonus of strong internal advocates is that they can enforce proper protocols.

“When disposables were introduced to the OR, habits changed,” says Angie O’Connor, a former OR nurse who currently works for the Encompass Group as director of clinical resources – acute care. “Since disposables were used once, it became acceptable to cut them. Before disposables, reusable drapes were only cut in emergencies.”

“The key is creating a culture of conservation in the ‘periop’ space,” she adds. “Everyone in the OR needs to work for quality outcomes that are cost-effective.”

Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE.

About the author

Nancy Jenkins

American Reusable Textile Association

Editor, Executive Director

Nancy Jenkins is editor and executive director of ARTA and resides in Lee’s Summit, Mo. She is also the principal of Jenkins Integrated Marketing, which provides marketing communication services to national, regional and local organizations.


Latest Podcast

Bill Brooks, director of customer solutions and business development for commercial laundry equipment manufacturer Alliance Laundry Systems, talks about important KPIs in a laundry/linen service for efficiency and quality.

Want more? Visit the archive »

Digital Edition

Latest Classifieds