Long-term care: 'Green' process is ongoing for Va. medical practice

August 1, 2008

At Nova Medical, the largest primary care practice in Loudoun County, Va., "The process of going green is ongoing," says Jennifer Stokols, M.S., a registered dietitian who heads Nova Medical's green team.

Key Points

With 170 employees, including two dermatologists, Nova Medical encompasses Nova Medical Group, Nova Urgent Care and the Medical Spa at Nova.

Nova Medical's green program incorporates everything from eco-friendly medicines and mercury-free vaccines and thermometers to electronic patient surveys administered at checkout.

Rather than tossing various recyclables into separate bins, she says, employees put all recyclables into one bin, and trash haulers sort the material later.

Because recycling has allowed the practice to cut trash pickups from thrice weekly to once weekly, she says, "It actually saves us money."

However, finding a vendor who would sort recyclables took a year of negotiating, conducted through Nova Medical's building management company, with various haulers.

"You'd think that would be a 10-minute phone call. But sometimes, it's more difficult operationally than you think to make some of the simpler things happen," says Grace L. Keenan, M.D., a board-certified internist and Nova Medical's medical director and CEO.

Slashing waste

Elsewhere, the practice has reduced its red-bag waste by 33 percent, winning a 2008 Environmental Excellence Award from Practice Greenhealth, an Ashburn-based membership/networking organization for healthcare institutions committed to sustainability.

"The key there was education - once you tell people the red bag is only for specific hazardous materials, it made it a lot more feasible to recycle the other (waste), in turn cutting down on waste all around," Ms. Stokols says.

In addition, the installation of an electronic health record (EHR) system, now under way, will eliminate $100,000 yearly in the purchasing of paper charts alone, Dr. Keenan says.

And upon completion of the installation, slated this month, she says, "We will have eliminated $430,000 in yearly expenses by eliminating the staffing that was required to search for paper."

Leaving no stone unturned, the practice also eliminated some 200 Styrofoam cups used by patients and employees daily, by encouraging staff to use their own mugs or company-supplied water bottles.

"In patient waiting rooms," Ms. Stokols says, "we offer biodegradable cups. They cost around six cents extra per cup, but it's well worth it."

By summer's end, Nova Medical also plans to switch to recyclable paper for its marketing brochures. Soon, too, the practice will eliminate incoming paper faxes (such as prescription refill requests); instead, sending the information through a fax server, then directly to patient files, Dr. Keenan adds.

Thanks to such measures, she plans to convert space formerly occupied by a massive filing cabinet into two revenue-producing exam rooms by fall.

"If anyone would like a good deal on a $20,000 filing cabinet," Dr. Keenan quips, "I can give it to them."

Disclosure: Dr. Keenan reports no relevant financial interests.

For more information:

http://www.novamedgroup.com/

http://www.practicegreenhealth.org/