Good business practices include paying attention to reducing waste at every level. This is important not only for financial health and profitability but also for enhancing your business’s reputation with patients, suppliers, and the wider community. Whatever form it takes, waste costs money. Reduction and prevention are critical elements of business strategy. Healthcare industries tend to produce large quantities of clinical waste, but companies are increasingly focusing on ways to generate less while maintaining high-quality care and safety standards.
It is surprising how much money and time can be saved by making even seemingly small changes, and the effects on a business’s finances are cumulative. Plenty of help and constructive advice is available in this field, particularly from organizations focused on “green” or “circular” approaches. There are even estimates of how much money can be saved by adopting a low-waste approach in a typical dental practice.
Where to Start
For each major process, it makes sense to begin by undertaking a “waste audit” to identify some quick wins and find opportunities to make significant changes in the longer term. Take a look at the practice’s processes, including everything from ordering supplies for the office, sharps disposal and clinical records to marketing and patient education. For each area, consider potential waste reduction. This could entail minimizing the production of solid waste, reducing input costs, or saving time in performing procedures. Once this audit is complete, it should be easier to make decisions about what to tackle first, set some targets and get started.
In supplies procurement, there may be opportunities to reduce costs, such as by buying in bulk, using combined orders to cut shipping costs, or reusing lab packaging to re-ship items. Ensure printers are set by default to double-sided printing and use refillable printers and toner cartridges. Moving to digital charting, digital records, and email or SMS communication with patients can have a significant impact on paper use.
In patient areas of the office, consider offering durable or recyclable products such as coffee and water cups and providing recycling bins in waiting rooms and administrative areas. Using energy-efficient heating and LED lighting, including motion-sensitive lighting controls, is an obvious solution for modern practice environments.
One of the biggest areas of waste production in dental care is single-use infection control items, which are responsible for billions of pieces of plastic trash entering the environment every year. This mountain of plastic waste can be dramatically reduced by moving to cloth-based infection control and sterilization procedures. Suitable cloth products include gowns or lab coats, sterilization bags, patient bibs and couch covers. Switching from single use to reusable instruments could include the use of stainless-steel impression trays, suction tips and metal intraoral mirrors, which can be sterilized in an autoclave.
Sharps and other hazardous waste disposal services may offer recycling, which does not always produce cost savings but will certainly reduce the amount of waste entering landfills. Other costly dental waste products, such as heavy metals like mercury, lead, and silver, can be minimized by using mercury-free composites and adopting digital imaging rather than x-ray film.
When the dental practice handles mercury, whether it’s removing, placing, or replacing amalgam, using an amalgam separator can help capture significant amounts of mercury waste material. Digital imaging produces 80% less radiation than traditional x-ray film while also eliminating the need for lead foils and toxic x-ray fixer. Digital impressions, commonly used for producing crowns, implants, inlays and aligners, can replace single-use impression trays and materials, while also being more acceptable for many patients, particularly children.
Time is money, and it can be advantageous to consider new ways of working and technologies that save time, particularly in patient consultation. Dry field devices and indirect bonding for bracket placement are two examples of time-saving products.
H2: Engaging Patients
People are becoming much more conscious of their own environmental impact, and this provides many opportunities to educate and encourage patients. When presented with an environmentally friendly dental office, patients will invariably respond well, and this can be a great way to promote the practice. With this type of approach, limiting the number of elastic bands that are typically given away can be seen as a positive move rather than your dental staff being stingy.
Many new green products are now available for patients who are interested, including recyclable toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes, biodegradable silk dental floss, eco-friendly interdental brushes, and products with minimal packaging.
To reinforce these messages with patients, it may help to tell them about practice successes, such as reducing plastic waste. Providing updates via email, social media, and online shows that your interest in sustainability is serious and long term.
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