Assessing the magnitude and costs of intraoperative inefficiencies attributable to surgical instrument trays

J Am Coll Surg. 2014 Oct;219(4):646-55. doi: 10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2014.06.019. Epub 2014 Jul 11.


Background: Efficiency in the operating room has become a topic of great interest. This study aimed to quantify the percent use of instruments among common instrument trays across 4 busy surgical services: Otolaryngology, Plastic Surgery, Bariatric Surgery, and Neurosurgery. We further aimed to calculate the costs associated with tray and instrument sterilization, as well as the implications of missing or damaged instruments.

Study design: This was a single-site, observational study conducted on the surgical instrumentation at a large academic medical center in Chicago. Data were collected through direct observation by a trained investigator. Operating room instrument use and labor time required for cleaning and repacking instrument trays in central sterile processing (CSP) were analyzed using descriptive statistics and linear regression. Institutional data on volume and expenses were gathered from hospital leadership.

Results: Forty-nine procedures and 237 individual trays were observed. Average instrument (±SD)use rates were 13.0% for Otolaryngology (±4.2%), 15.5% for Plastic Surgery (±2.9%), 18.2% for Bariatric Surgery (±5.0%), and 21.9% for Neurosurgery (±1.7%). An increasing number of instruments per tray was associated with decreased use and increased instrument error rate. Using recorded labor time, the cost of cleaning and repackaging an individual instrument was calculated to be $0.10. Adding in CSP operating expenses and instrument depreciation per use, total processing cost per instrument increases to $0.51 or more.

Conclusions: Our study demonstrates that the percent use of instruments across surgical specialties and multiple tray types is low. Attention to tray composition may result in immediate and significant cost savings.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers / economics*
  • Academic Medical Centers / supply & distribution
  • Chicago
  • Cost Savings
  • Hospital Costs / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Operating Rooms / economics
  • Operating Rooms / supply & distribution*
  • Sterilization / economics*
  • Sterilization / standards
  • Surgical Instruments / economics*
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / economics*