Hospitals Waste Extravagant Amounts of Unused Medical Supplies, Study Finds

by Vins
Published: Updated:

In March 2017, ProPublica reported that big hospitals nationwide are wasting millions of dollars a year by discarding perfectly good medical supplies. The type of equipment that gets thrown away ranges from simple items like surgical masks that cost just over a dollar each, to more serious equipment like infant warmers that cost $4,000 or even $25,000 ultrasound machines.  These wasted supplies add up, accounting for a significant amount of a hospital’s operating costs that Americans pay for through high healthcare costs.

Marshall Allen’s report cited a University of California-San Francisco study focused on UCSF’s own medical center. In its neurosurgery department, the study found almost $1,000 in wasted resources for each case, accounting for nearly $3 million in estimated annual costs. That’s $3 million wasted in one department at one hospital. As ProPublica’s report noted, this kind of waste occurs all over the country, despite the existence of non-profit organizations whose mission it is to accept unused medical supplies as donations and to ship them to medical facilities in need all over the world. Although facilities that receive donated supplies eventually make use of them, they still account for millions out of hospitals’ operating budgets, increasing the cost of healthcare. And this is all happening while poorer hospitals in rural areas of the United States are unable to afford the high quality medical supplies that big hospitals are throwing out.

Similar stories were published in topical or industry-focused news websites including Healthcare Finance News and Fierce Healthcare – organizations that target healthcare professionals instead of the majority of the healthcare-purchasing American public. The closest to mainstream coverage that this received was a small piece published on the Washington Post’s “PostEverything” section, written by the original author of the ProPublica report, Marshall Allen. While coverage by the Washington Post could constitute mainstream coverage, it’s important to note both the story’s location and content. PostEverything is an online-only opinion section that hosts content from contributors who are not regular Post reporters. The Post did not devote any of their own resources to pursuing the story and did not place it in a prominent location where it would be seen by the majority of its readers. Secondly, the article is an opinion piece instead of Allen’s original hard-hitting report. While it still communicates that there is a problem, it simply does not have the impact of ProPublica’s story. In March 2017, US News and World Report published a story based on the ProPublica report.

Source: Marshall Allen, “What Hospitals Waste,” ProPublica, March 9, 2017,

Student Researcher: Blane Erwin (North Central College)

Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)