Penny Wise and Pound Foolish: Recycling Supplies

by Oct 31, 2019Practice Finance

Free Bridge ©Krevnasty, Wikipedia

When you cross the border from Phillipsburg, New Jersey, to Easton, Pennsylvania, you have two options:

  • You can stay on the highway and use the toll bridge. The good news: It takes seconds to cross the bridge. The bad news: It will set you back $1.
  • Or you can use the aptly nicknamed “free bridge.” The good news: It’s free. The bad news: It requires a convoluted detour and easily takes 5 minutes because of several red lights and stop signs. In addition, the free bridge is slippery, especially when it’s raining, so there is a significantly higher risk of getting into an accident than using the toll bridge.

Which option is better? Spending $1 to save 5 minutes, gas money as well as wear and tear on your car (or worse) is the wiser choice. Yet every day, thousands of people make the opposite choice and travel the free bridge.

Similar skewed thinking happens every day at veterinary clinics. For example, does it make sense to rewrap reusable surgical gowns. 

Let’s look at the costs involved:

  • Cloth surgical gown — conservatively $20, and eventually requires replacement
  • An older washing machine uses 30 to 45 gallons of water per load. A high-efficiency washer uses 15 to 30 gallons of water per load. Neither is exactly environmentally friendly.
  • Laundry detergent
  • Electricity

This likely costs hundreds of dollars every year — not counting the income you are probably paying your team to do the laundry.

But all they have done so far is clean the dirty gowns. Next, team members (presumably still on payroll) need to move laundry from the washer to the dryer. More money spent on electricity. Then they need to sort, fold and put away all that laundry.

This involves folding and wrapping each gown, hopefully along with a hand towel and a sterilization strip. For that, they need to find and unfold wrapping material, actually wrap each gown, autoclave it and let it vent. More money on electricity, and lots of distilled water. Not to mention regular maintenance and repairs of your temperamental autoclave.

Let’s talk more specifically about the time it takes for your team to process surgery gowns after a surgery day. If 4 or 5 gowns were used, that is a full load of laundry (including gowns and hand towels). Washing and drying takes about 2 hours and 5 to 10 minutes of staff time. Folding and wrapping 4-5 gowns takes approximately 20 minutes, plus time to autoclave and restock the gowns on a shelf. How much money have you spent so far?

The same reasoning applies to cloth drapes. We will spare you the description of each step.

Some practices prefer to buy a roll of disposable paper drapes. Countless colleagues do that, yet they still need to pay team members to cut, fold, wrap, sterilize and store them.

The same calculation applies to rewrapping suction hoses, with the added chore of having to clean dried blood and the pain of letting them dry for days and days. It’s such a waste of time and money. Yet do you have any idea how much a suction hose costs? About a buck!

Is this really the best use of a technician’s or assistant’s time? Instead, shouldn’t they be providing better patient care or educating clients?

A much wiser decision might be to purchase single-use, disposable surgical gowns, drapes and suction hoses. It may look like a bigger expense upfront, on paper, but you will save a lot more in payroll and other expenses.

This is the veterinary equivalent of being penny wise and pound foolish, and it’s no different from making a five-minute detour to save a buck on a toll bridge.

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS & Meredith Jones, DVM
Co-Founders of Veterinary Financial Summit