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Archive Infection Control 2020

Need Help Improving Instrument Care?

Expert consultants offer fresh ideas and new approaches to make change happen in the sterile processing department.

Daniel Cook

Daniel Cook, Editor-in-Chief


EXPERT OPINION The team at Winchester (Va.) Medical Center relied on an outside voice to optimize the way instruments are reprocessed.

The sterile processing staff at Winchester (Va.) Medical Center reprocesses trays of instruments sent to them from 15 ORs. That's a lot to manage, so perhaps it's no surprise workflow issues once derailed a process for moving instruments through the department efficiently and effectively. "We needed help streamlining the way we worked," says Susan Riley, RN, the hospital's operating room business manager. "It's very hard to break habits and routines. It's even more difficult to make repeated attempts at making change happen. An outside expert with new ideas and a fresh voice can help."

But not all consultants approach the job with the same methods or intentions. "Some are deeply aligned with equipment manufacturers or major industry players," says Dave Norton, MS, MBA, a former Lean process consultant. "That doesn't make them ineffective, but they sometimes approach the project with preconceived opinions and outline an improvement plan to get you to solutions they deem necessary without understanding your needs."

He says the consultants you want to partner with make suggestions based on how your facility functions, then teach your staff to find and make needed improvements. They're interested in spending time learning about what makes your department tick instead of arriving with a predetermined set of process-improvement goals and a boilerplate punch list of tasks.

"They should spend weeks watching the flow of instruments during the busiest of times and lulls in the action, and observe how your team interacts," says Ms. Riley. "They need to look at the whole process before making suggested changes, which shouldn't disrupt your current workflow."

Ms. Riley admits it's not easy to relinquish power to an unfamiliar professional who you've given permission to create the change you've struggled to make happen. "But if you buy into the process, it can make a big difference," she adds.

After partnering with the right consultant, begin building trust and clear lines of communication. "You need to know they have your best interest in mind," says Ms. Riley. "Once you do, let them do their thing."

Consultants can help gather every staff member involved in instrument care, from surgical personnel to sterile processing managers, and drill down to how trays move through the OR-SPD circuit. "They're able to map out the process to look for repetitive or unnecessary steps — and identify ways to make it more effective and efficient," says Ms. Riley.

For example, Ms. Riley's consultant suggested that members of the OR team should roll individual carts full of soiled instruments to the sterile processing department as soon as they're ready instead of waiting to move several at a time. Doing so prevents a bottleneck of carts in sterile processing that makes it difficult for reprocessing techs to keep pace with arriving instruments.

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