Investing in educators supports quality assurance

Jan. 21, 2022

Thanks to revolutionary technological advances in medicine, the healthcare industry has been saturated with innovation and cutting-edge resources. Unfortunately, these advances aren’t always so readily seen in today’s Sterile Processing departments (SPD), and that lack of attention and resources can have a significant and negative impact on patient outcomes.

Many facility decision-makers fail to realize that their SPDs are running on antiquated and outdated systems—and this is not just limited to processing equipment. These “outdated systems” can be seen in departments’ standard operating procedures (SOPs), which can then translate to questionable practices from technicians. If a facility is to deliver the highest quality patient care, decision-makers must invest in the professional development of their sterile processing (SP) professionals who are tasked with delivering clean, sterile, well-functioning instrumentation.

Changing times call for revised practices

The realm of SP is not what it used to be. Notable differences from the early days of the discipline to today include more intricate and complex instrumentation; intensive and detailed instructions for use (IFU) or, conversely, vague or confusing IFU that can introduce ambiguity and dangerous guesswork into processing steps; skyrocketing surgical case volumes; increased instrument sets and the need for more instruments within a surgical set; and more.

SP leaders must ask whether their department has developed new standards of operation to match new challenges and demands. They must also reevaluate the department’s onboarding protocols and ensure that their training models directly correlate to the successes (and failures) of SP professionals’ standard practices. What’s more, they should examine how the current state of their department has changed since the training practices were created. A few indicators that the onboarding and training process may be antiquated or in need of a revamp include differences in staff size, changes in accommodated surgical service lines, increases in defects specific to one or more areas, and high rate of professional fatigue, burnout and frustration.

SP leaders and the facility’s senior leadership must understand that whenever clear steps and appropriate guidance are not provided, employees will perform based on their personal interpretation of the expectation. In such cases, those actions may not be rooted in best practices, despite those individuals’ best efforts. A thorough assessment of the department’s SOPs is an essential first step in implementing quantifiable and tangible SPD processes.

Quality educators lend vital support

When updated SOPs are needed in the SPD, the responsibility largely falls on an already inundated manager. Often, they are seeing the fallout of their departmental practices from numerous angles: their frustrated technicians, urgent requests from perioperative colleagues and, perhaps, even inquiries from facility executives who request change but often fail to lend adequate support to allow it to happen.

Facility leaders looking to create a culture for positive change must recognize that stating the need for change is not enough. SP managers often lack the bandwidth or support necessary to maintain day-to–day operations, manage daily challenges and develop better practices; they could greatly benefit from an SPD collaborator—a quality SPD educator.

An educator’s primary role is to assess whether the processes in place achieve the facility’s patient safety goals. By combining subject matter expertise with standards and scholastic industry references, educators can best identify opportunities for change. Change is then made permanent through the creation, implementation and management of new practices, followed by training. Through interdepartmental collaboration, SP educators can help create updated SOPs, quantifiable best practices and qualifiable indicators for managerial decision-making; identify areas of improvement; create curriculum for training; and ensure best practices and quality assurance (QA) are at the heart of formal training. Employing an SP educator allows the manager to better manage the department’s daily operations, along with the expectations of their team, service lines and facility executives. Put simply, investing in a quality SPD educator provides a new way to invest in patient safety. 

Every leader must ask whether “the way they’ve always done it” is adequate and rooted in standards and best practices. When goals aren’t met, blame is often passed onto individual employees; however, attention must first be paid to the processes, practices and SOPs being implemented, and the training of those processes and procedures. If employees aren’t performing well, the issue can often be traced to poor processes and training. An SP educator can assess and survey their department’s workflow and pain points (as outlined by the manager) to evaluate improvement opportunities. This can be achieved through QA audits, electronic tracking system data collection, root cause analysis, direct observation, and evaluation and competencies. Educators can then create and implement a curriculum that teaches the practices necessary for quality and patient safety. From there, the manager can use the outlined standard work to address precise areas of deviation or improvement with the SP team. This information can prove helpful for managers during meetings with facility executives by allowing managers to share why issues arose—and a suitable plan for process improvement.

Conclusion

A dedicated SP educator is crucial for instilling lasting and positive change through the development of best practice-based SOPs, processes and training. When educators and managers work collaboratively, frontline technicians and senior-level executives will achieve the results they have always wanted: safe, high-quality patient care.