Integrity breeds quality, safety in Sterile Processing

March 23, 2021
Doing the right thing in SPD isn’t always easy, but vital

Integrity is a highly prioritized trait for many, and it’s a prized possession in the healthcare setting where doing the right thing plays a direct role in patient outcomes and safety. Despite its importance, however, many individuals who pride themselves on showing integrity in their personal and professional lives still, at times, slip up from time to time (or, at least, may be tempted to do so due to any number of pressures or challenges).

Make no mistake, there are no degrees of integrity. A person of high integrity (an invaluable trait for all healthcare professionals) must commit to demonstrating it always, not just when it’s convenient or when time and circumstances allow. Doing what’s right isn’t just limited to one’s own actions either. If a person witnesses another healthcare professional, both inside and outside the department, taking shortcuts and/or abandoning best practices, they must speak up in the moment to ensure integrity remains a constant for the healthcare organization and the patients being served. Doing the right thing each time isn’t always easy, especially given the high-stress, ever-evolving healthcare setting, but striving for it is always necessary.

Ownership and accountability

Sterile Processing (SP) professionals and their healthcare customers share a common goal of delivering quality service that helps ensure the patients on the receiving end of the instrumentation and treatment have the best odds for a positive outcome. But daily on-the-job pressures and stressors can creep in and result in one of the following situations that can diminish the ability to reach that goal: A missing or damaged instrument discovered when the patient is already on the procedure table; a packed procedural schedule that causes the surgical team to push SP professionals to turn instrument sets around faster than is safe and prudent (and, in turn, some SP professionals reluctantly caving to the requests for fear of angering the surgeon); device damage caused by poor practices in the OR, Sterile Processing & Distribution (SPD) or other department; and a colleague who rushes a process or skips a step because they’re tired, unfocused or eager to move on to a less challenging task, to name just a few examples.

According to Angela Lewellyn, LPN, CRCST, CHL, Director of Development and Research for Advantage Support Services Inc., all technicians should view themselves as educators and infection prevention advocates. “To take ownership, we should present information, as a gentle reminder, and re-educate each other to ensure a department of excellence,” she said.

 Of course, being open to ideas and willing to take constructive criticism when our own actions are called into question are equally important to maintaining a department of consistent integrity and accountability. During the hiring process, Tony Thurmond, CRCST, CIS, CHL, Central Service Manager for Dayton Children’s Hospital, routinely asks prospective hires these two questions during the interview: If you were to see a co-worker doing something wrong, intentionally or not, how would you approach them or handle the situation? and If someone sees you doing something incorrectly, intentionally or not, how would you handle someone approaching you and letting you know that what you did is wrong?

“If a person cannot accept someone questioning or critiquing their work in a professional way, I prefer not to hire this person,” he said.

Sometimes, even experienced SP leaders (those in director or manager roles) may fail to follow best practices. Again, mounting pressures could be a contributing factor, but it could also mean they were simply taught incorrectly by an educator or former manager and they simply don’t know they’re making a mistake. Technicians or others who witness a questionable practice by someone in a leadership role can successfully address the situation with thoughtful, education-based communication that is rooted in data. Leaders should be open to their employees tactfully addressing any concerns or asking questions, and they should always encourage open dialog to ensure the entire department is on the same page and adhering to standards, best practices, policies and procedures, and instructions for use. “No person is infallible,” said Thurmond. “Even the most skilled and dedicated person can make mistakes, and we all must never stop be willing to learn, grow and improve ourselves.”

 Sharing meaningful data is also imperative when communicating concerns with SPD customers, and helping establish more effective interdisciplinary teams. Building cross-functional teams where a surgeon and individuals from each stakeholder department are present, for example — and then meeting at least monthly to review pertinent data surrounding practices can be valuable for identifying areas in need of review and improvement.

 It’s also important for SP professionals to know not only the standards that directly impact the SPD, but also those pertaining to their healthcare customers. Being privy to Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) guidelines, for example, will help give SP professionals more confidence and credibility in addressing issues with the surgical team.

At the same time, some OR professionals may not fully understand their standards themselves.

As Thurmond explained, some might have been taught to follow what they were taught by their veteran team members, and not necessarily what is outlined in the current standards. Regardless of a person’s title, position or tenure, Thurmond stresses that, “if you have knowledge of how to do right, you always should lean on it and use it every day, without fail. Patients depend on us to function every day with integrity, no matter what.” 

About the Author

Julie E. Williamson

Julie Williamson is the  IAHCSMM Communications Director.

Photo 77197506 © Korn Vitthayanukarun |
Image courtesy of Kat Velez, LeeSar Regional Service Center, Fort Myers, FL, HPN’s 2017 SPD of the Year
261278015 © Александр Лебедько |