The Sterile Processing department (SPD) may not be a revenue generator, but the work that takes place within its walls significantly impacts throughput and outcomes for the operating room and other direct patient care areas the SPD serves. That’s why it’s imperative for healthcare organizations to allocate adequate resources to the SPD to ensure it can function optimally, efficiently and safely.
Unfortunately, many SP professionals lament that year after year their available resources and capital budgets are woefully lacking, a reality that makes it difficult to keep up with procedural volume and ever-increasing demands of their healthcare customers. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find SPDs with outdated, frequently malfunctioning equipment, inadequate instrument inventory, cramped and inefficient areas within the department, limited staffing and old or altogether absent industry standards and guidelines. With such shortcomings being an all too common reality, it’s little wonder errors occur, inefficiencies abound and best practices aren’t always followed.
“SPDs play a direct role in patient safety and infection prevention, so if they aren’t getting the proper resources to effectively keep up with procedural volume, everything else can suffer as a result,” said IAHCSMM’s Director of Education Natalie Lind, CRCST, CHL, FCS. “Insufficient resources for the SPD are a problem that affects not just that department, but all the departments the SPD serves. And, of course, it potentially impacts the patients.”
By the numbers
As virtually any healthcare manager can attest, simply stating a resource need or compiling a capital equipment wish list for the department isn’t enough to manifest into healthier budgets. The key to getting what’s needed lies in effective and ongoing use of data, documentation due diligence and strategic partnerships to help secure the necessary resources.
Facilities with automated tracking systems that log processing throughput and other pertinent task-related data can help managers more clearly demonstrate the amount of work taking place within the walls of the department—and across all shifts. As reports and analytics become increasingly advanced with today’s tracking systems, SP leaders can pull down valuable data to identify quality defects, monitor productivity, track inventory and audit processes.1
Anthony Bondon, BSM, CRCST, Central Sterile Supply Manager at Sentara Leigh Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia, has successfully used data from his department’s instrument tracking system to identify instruments that are consistently used and needing to be reprocessed in the same day to keep up with case volume. He then uses the data to help justify the need for additional inventory and equipment. The organization also uses an operational improvement benchmarking solution that helps establish the proper volume-to-man-power ratio. The tool has helped Bondon more effectively track volume, capture the department’s full function and ensure the department is adequately staffed.
Bondon then shares that information during budget meetings with the senior-level executives. Facilities without computer-based tracking systems can still effectively track manually, he assured, noting that SP leaders can use daily “needs lists” that can be saved and tallied at the end of each month to demonstrate trends and throughput.2
Whether an SP leader attains the data manually or through computer-based means, experts stress the importance of learning how to analyze the data, devise business plans and better speak the language of the organization’s top executives. Attending a meeting with an executive and providing a detailed, well-constructed analysis that demonstrates workload changes and how inadequate staffing, instrument inventories and outdated and unreliable processing equipment can result in errors and negative outcomes will greatly up the odds for an SP leader to secure the resources they need for the SPD.
Align strong allies
When negotiating budgets and resource needs, SP leaders don’t have to go it alone. In fact, aligning support from infection preventionists (IPs), risk managers, biomedical professionals and surgical services professionals can help build a strong case for needs-based resources in the SPD.
If a facility has added operating rooms and new procedures or specialties but the SPD is still running with aging processing equipment, cramped quarters and too few employees, for example, it’s prudent for SP leaders to analyze and document what is needed to function optimally. As output increases, more waged labor hours are needed. The departmental assessment should also include tracking equipment age and the number of cycles each piece of equipment has run, along with repair history and anticipated life expectancy. Partnering with biomedical professionals can greatly assist SP managers in this area to identify bottlenecks and forecast future needs.
Building a better relationship with IPs and risk managers is also crucial because they typically look at the organization holistically and closely evaluate how to promote patient safety, infection prevention and compliance. IPs can help SPDs stay current with standards, guidelines and requirements—as well as surveyors’ key focus areas. One Joint Commission standard that has proven challenging for many healthcare organizations in recent years is infection control standard IC.02.02.01, which requires facilities to reduce infection risks associated with medical equipment, instruments and supplies; therefore, partnering with the IP and risk manager can help SP leaders stay abreast of the latest evidence-based guidelines and standards and ensure that the SPD has what it needs to safely and efficiently keep up with customer demands, now and into the future. hpn
1. Harreld, R. Making the Most of Tracking Software. CIS lesson plan. PROCESS. Jan/Feb 2021. IAHCSMM. Chicago, Ill.
2. Williamson, J. New Year, New Opportunities: Tips to Better Your Career, Department, Budgets & More. PROCESS. Jan/Feb. 2020. IAHCSMM. Chicago, Ill.