Readers Write: Leveraging Technology to Ensure Reliable Hazardous Drug Disposal at Physician Practices
Leveraging Technology to Ensure Reliable Hazardous Drug Disposal
By Kathryn Evans
Hazardous drugs abound in healthcare. Consequently, well-defined disposal procedures for the resulting waste — such as remaining medication or packaging — are essential to prevent negative patient safety and environmental impacts, as well as penalties for noncompliance.
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) established the rules that govern hazardous drug disposal back in 1976, yet adherence remains a challenge today. The law’s sheer size and scope makes it especially difficult for smaller practices with limited resources. Moreover, organizations also are responsible for complying with any additional, stricter state regulations on the books. As new hazardous drugs emerge that existing RCRA rules do not address, the compliance challenges are only intensified.
The Consequences of Noncompliance
Unfortunately, many healthcare organizations — especially physician practices and other smaller facilities — find themselves out of compliance with RCRA regulations. These entities often fail to accurately and reliably identify the hazardous drugs used in their facilities. As a result, staff might inadvertently place drug waste in the wrong receptacles.
RCRA waste must be treated in compliance with local, state, and federal requirements. When RCRA waste is disposed of as regulated medical waste (RMW), the generator is no longer in compliance and waste is not treated in a manner that protects the environment. If pharmaceutical material is placed in regular medical waste, the hazardous drug elements will not be treated appropriately and harmful chemicals may be released — leading to potential environmental impact.
In addition to harmful ecological impacts, failure to meet RCRA requirements has financial ramifications. Not only are there some fairly steep fines at the local, state, and federal levels, but a compliance issue can lead to negative public perceptions that can tarnish an organization’s reputation. If the compliance shortfall is severe or recurring, it may even lead to staff and patient retention issues.
The Role of Technology in Elevating Compliance
In the past, navigating RCRA standards often involved sifting through pages of legislation to figure out whether an organization was in compliance. However, with the advent of technology, meeting RCRA requirements has become much more straightforward and efficient.
For example, a key compliance step involves conducting a thorough assessment of the hazardous drugs that may be generated as waste. To assist with this effort, a facility can turn to comprehensive technology solutions that simplify drug identification. These tools may offer a checklist that staff members can easily work through to identify the pertinent pharmaceuticals. In addition to enabling a more efficient process, the tool also supports a comprehensive review and limits the possibility of potential hazards slipping through the cracks.
Similarly, practices can leverage technology to help with staff training. Once a practice determines which pharmaceuticals it administers, all staff members must be familiar with how to appropriately dispose of the relevant waste. By leveraging Web-based training, practices can offer detailed and convenient education options, encouraging employees to take the training whenever and wherever it is most convenient for them. Those individuals tasked with organization compliance can access the technology to see which team members have successfully completed the training and follow up with those who haven’t. This type of tool can even point out areas where the knowledge of staff members is weak, highlighting further training opportunities.
Technology can also enable better compliance tracking. Using an automated solution, organizations can go online to request a pickup from their waste disposal provider, and track that material throughout the entire disposal process. This helps practices keep related and comprehensive documentation and tracking information in one place. By shifting away from paper and embracing technology, organizations can not only reduce their reliance on antiquated processes and free up space, but also engage in more robust tracking, reporting, and compliance assessment.
Managing RCRA Compliance Through Technology
Ensuring proper drug disposal is an essential activity for healthcare organizations and practices. Technology can make the process go much more smoothly, promoting efficiency and effectiveness. Technology can help practices remain in compliance at all times by supporting thorough identification, training, and tracking of RCRA regulations and standards.
Kathryn Evans is a national director at Stericycle Inc.