Archive December 2017 XVIII, No. 12

Infection Prevention: Don't Define Your Reprocessors By Their Failures

Let your sterile processing department prove itself to you.

Weston "Hank" Balch

Weston "Hank" Balch, CRCST, CIS, CHL


sterile reprocessing department TURNAROUND Frustrated OR customers are a sign that all is not well with your sterile reprocessing department.

Tacked to my office bulletin board is a printout of a frustrated surgeon's email, his scathing words highlighted in neon green. "I don't say anything because it is expected sloppiness from sterile processing."

Expected sloppiness. Words I never want to forget.

That was the perspective of this surgeon concerning the team of technicians laboring to decontaminate, clean, inspect, test, package, sterilize and transport his surgical instruments.

This was a customer who had lost faith in the product, who'd been failed one too many times and who'd written off any hope of improvement. Kind of like that one fast food restaurant that you swear you'll never go back to because they don't understand the definition of "fast," they constantly get your order wrong and they always forget to give you napkins. And who could blame you? Poor quality and service should never become the norm. You should never expect sloppiness — let alone stand for it.

Not-so-great expectations
Many sterile processing departments have failures in their past that loom large in the memories of their customers. You got 999 trays right, but the instrument missing from last week's case was the one that caused the blip on the OR's radar and created the Monday morning hub-bub.

You have customers who have lost faith in your ability to ever "get it right." And yet they remain your customers. Unlike in the real world, your perioperative team can't just walk across the street and get the kind of quality and service they want. In a sense, your surgeons and staff are a captive audience to your reprocessors' process improvement journey — and when that process fails, they add it to the list of reasons why "nothing will ever change."

But your reprocessors don't have to be defined by their failures. Even though the frustrations might be from past mistakes, there is still an opportunity for your reprocessors to chip away at the culture of failure and set a new course for the future. Here are 3 ways they can get started.

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