Chances are, your operating costs are higher than they could be. Your sharps and red bag waste are no exception to this. You might deal with companies that charge you extra for things like fuel surcharges, or even for rescheduling a pickup. But, no regulator makes you pay for extra “value added services” like these just to throw out the trash.
Saving money can be a difficult task for any business. Yet, if you follow this simple set of suggestions, you can potentially save hundreds of dollars every year. Ready? Let’s get started.
1. Don’t Sign an Expensive Service Contract
Most dentists assume they need a contract for medical waste services. With few local options available, they’ll sign an agreement even without a thorough review. Maybe they look at the monthly rate and think the rest of the agreement is standard, but that rate is only the beginning. Soon after service begins, many dentists realize they’re trapped. Now, they’re into long-term agreements with extra fees and charges. Some include things like:
- Uncapped pricing increases after the initial year
- Environmental fees
- Fuel charges
- Energy charges
- Charges for more containers
- Surcharges if there’s no waste to pick-up, if it’s not ready, or the office isn’t open
- Narrow windows to cancel agreements, well before it ends
- “Liquidated damages” fees to drop services (even during renewal periods)
- Liability for any equipment provided by the hauler
- Total indemnification of the service provider until they’ve processed your trash
A class-action lawsuit is currently underway against the nation’s largest service provider. It alleges prices jumped 18%, affecting almost all the company’s customers. Moreover, Cris Salierno of The Curious Dentist recently wrote about his own frustrating experiences.
*Update 2019: $295 million settlement reached in Stericycle class action lawsuit. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on Oct. 26 granted preliminary approval for the settlement. The fairness hearing for final approval is scheduled for Feb. 21, 2018. The class included more than 246,000 dentists, veterinarians and other small business owners across the country.
The alternative to an agreement with a large service provider is a “mailback” option. Mailback ships containers through UPS or the USPS. These programs provide a choice of containers, compliant packaging, and prepaid postage. Disposal of your containers is included, which makes mailback options more sensible. On average, a dental practice can expect to save between 50% or more every year going with mailback.
2. Don’t Get “Upgraded” Into Paying Extra for OSHA Compliance Tools
It shouldn’t be a surprise that land service companies try hard to upgrade your level of service. The higher levels usually include bloodborne pathogen (BBP) training and exposure control plans. This satisfies your OSHA compliance requirements. While everyone needs annual BBP training, it doesn’t mean you need to pay thousands of dollars for it. Both OSHA and the CDC offer templates to you for free.
Some companies bundle templates for quarterly staff meetings, expense reports and so on. But, the Internet’s full of free, easy-to-find alternatives. These resources cover your practice’s sharps safety and universal precautions without heavy investment.
3. Sort Red Bag, Sharps, and Regular Trash Well
Not everything that comes in in contact with blood or body fluids needs to go in a red bag. Most states outline their regulated medical waste (RMW) requirements. It’s important to know, though, that OSHA has a specific definition for saturation. OSHA considers any item saturated if it “would release blood or other potentially infectious materials in a liquid or semi-liquid state if compressed.” What this means is you’re able to place items that have just trace levels of blood in the regular trash. You should be able to discard most exam gloves, patient bibs, gauze, and other things in this way (even if there’s a little blood). Anything dripping goes into your RMW container.
The cost of disposing a small medical waste container is around $100. That suggests there are big savings to be had by sorting this waste stream with efficiency. A word of caution: have a well-documented plan on file for your waste disposal. Also, make sure it honors your state’s requirements. Penalties for improper disposal are severe and often public.
4. Standardize Your Office’s Sharps Containers
Sharps containers are (more or less) more affordable when they hold more volume. Yet, some states set time limits on how long you’re allowed to have any container once it holds sharps. That time limit doesn’t account for the size of the container, either. This means if you live in one of these states, buying a smaller container might make more sense. For example, a standard 1-quart container holds about 70 carpules and 50 dental needles. That’s enough to handle sharps generated from 35-40 patients. Depending on how many patients you see, this capacity may be right for you. In short, understand how much sharps waste you generate. It’ll translate into having the most efficient containers for your operatories.
If your state doesn’t have a time limit, bigger is better. Within reason. It’s more important to make sure you’re compliant with state and federal laws. It’s also more important to place containers in secure spots close to the operatory, and out of the reach of your patients. Children (and their siblings) can be especially curious about what’s in that red bin.
Finally, never—ever!—walk down the hall to a large, central container to dispose of sharps. Doing so risks a needle-stick injury to you, your staff, or even a patient. And you’ll only save a couple of dollars in the long run anyway.