At Stericycle, our mission is to protect health and well-being in a safe, responsible, and sustainable way. Our company was founded in response to the syringe tide in the late ‘80s when sharps were washing up on the beaches the Northeast. That initial response expanded to an essential suite of services to manage regulated medical wastes safely and responsibly. For more than 30 years, our work has played a vital role in ensuring the health and well-being of healthcare workers, patients, and communities.
In support of our mission, we launched our first-ever Healthcare Workplace Safety Trend Report. With the healthcare system facing challenges—such as provider burnout, a global pandemic, and climate change—we wanted to explore the drivers of safety and health today, and how they impact both the quality of care delivered and the environmental footprint of the healthcare system at large.
“The healthcare ecosystem—its workforce, leaders, and patients—have never experienced more challenges when it comes to health and well-being,” said Cory White, Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer at Stericycle. “We’ve witnessed firsthand how existing issues like provider burnout, changing patient expectations, and quality of care environments have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our findings underscore that healthcare providers and administrators understand how the health and safety of a care environment impacts the patient experience and that medical waste management is a critical keystone in a safe and efficient healthcare environment.”
We surveyed a total of 500 healthcare providers and administrators across the U.S. and discovered some crucial insights about well-being in healthcare work environments. Here are some of the key findings:
- Burnout among Healthcare Professionals Is Prominent and Could Impact Their Safety: COVID-19 has exacerbated feelings of burnout (72%) and stress (85%) among healthcare providers, and the pandemic is undermining healthcare providers’ sense of safety in the workplace (71%). Less than 5% say they feel heroic.
- Medical Waste Management Is Essential for a Safe and Efficient Healthcare Environment: Over 70% of healthcare providers and administrators believe improper biohazardous waste management greatly impacts patient health and safety as well as puts the physical safety of healthcare providers at risk. In addition, 56% of providers and 57% of administrators feel that their organization needs to increase budgets for biohazardous waste disposal.
- Healthcare Workers Prefer Solutions That Limit the Impact of Medical Waste on the Environment: The environmental impacts of improper biohazardous waste management are substantial and top-of-mind. Over 90% of providers (94%) and administrators (95%) believe improper medical waste management has a detrimental impact on the environment.
- At-Home Care Is Here to Stay but Can Pose Significant Challenges: At-home care can pose significant challenges when it comes to ensuring the proper disposal of medical and pharmaceutical waste and can expose workers and patients to risk. Over 80% of healthcare providers say proper disposal of biohazardous waste in at-home care environments is a core challenge and can pose significant risks to their physical health and well-being.
- Drug Diversion Is a Top Concern Which Has Worsened Due to the Pandemic: Drug diversion is a chief concern among healthcare providers. More than half (56%) of healthcare workers believe improperly disposed of pharmaceutical waste is one of the top contributors to the opioid epidemic. As well, 52% of providers and 64% of administrators believe the pandemic has made it easier for opioids to get into the wrong hands.
As the results of our survey indicate, healthcare organizations need to invest more time and resources into their care environments. The COVID-19 pandemic created more challenges for the healthcare industry when it comes to health and well-being, such as healthcare provide burnout, but there are ways to address these problems to create a healthier, safer ecosystem of care. Recommendations for healthcare organizations include:
- Prioritize Health and Safety for Healthcare Workers: To help mitigate a “Great Resignation” of healthcare workers, healthcare organizations should prioritize strategies to improve the health and safety of both traditional and nontraditional care environments. Safer working environments, effective waste management, improved disposal processes, and increased training opportunities could contribute to improved patient care and serve as a catalyst for provider retention and job satisfaction.
- Implement Environmentally Sustainable Practices: Healthcare organizations can play a role in minimizing their impact to the environment and should evaluate their environmental sustainability practices for areas of improvement. This could include providing the proper containers and training staff training to support the segregation of waste or using reusable materials, such as reusable medical waste containers, where possible. These efforts can help ensure proper disposal and minimize landfill usage (e.g., paper, plastic), while also helping to keep pharmaceuticals out of waterways and reducing the possibility of drug diversion.
- Collaborate with Partners for At-Home Care Waste Management: To ensure the health and well-being of healthcare providers and patients in at-home settings, home health organizations and their waste management partners should collaborate to develop processes for both healthcare workers and patients to nurture a more sustainable, safer, and healthier care environment.
- Create a Plan to Minimize Drug Diversion: Both the push toward at-home care and the COVID-19 pandemic have potentially contributed to the opioid epidemic, putting public health and safety at risk. Healthcare organizations are in the unique position of helping people handle a variety of day-to-day health challenges. With many patients having increased awareness of the environmental and community impact of pharmaceutical waste, they may look to healthcare organizations for a safe and secure way to dispose of their leftover medications.
Several issues impacting the healthcare industry have been heightened by the pandemic. By implementing the strategies necessary to mitigate these forces and create a safe working environment centered on delivering high-quality patient care, healthcare providers and administrators can ultimately nurture a sustainable, successful healthcare system. For a deeper dive into our findings about the safety of the healthcare workplace, read the full report here.