By Julie E. Williamson
Central Service (CS) professionals who continue to hold out on becoming certified until their state legislators or hospital executives require it are not doing themselves, their healthcare customers and, especially, their patients any favors. Also, as more states board the certification bandwagon and new technicians are required to become certified in order to hold a position in the CS department, more tenured, non-certified professionals – even those who were “grandfathered” in under state law* (meaning that the bill exempts them from having to become certified) – will likely feel the pressure and may lose out to their certified counterparts.
It’s a message shared by number of quality- and safety-focused CS experts and departmental managers – many of whom have witnessed the role certification plays in positive outcomes, customer service, professional development, and career advancement. Without question, certification of CS technicians is a subject being highlighted with growing regularity, not only within IAHCSMM and amongst those who comprise the CS discipline, but also in the media; amongst state- elected officials; allied healthcare organizations; Joint Commission (JC) surveyors, and other accreditation and surveying bodies. The broader public is also becoming wiser to the importance of having the most skilled, knowledgeable and professional personnel in the role of instrument decontamination, sterilization and management – a need that can be met through certification and a commitment to ongoing education.
Like any other specialty, achieving certification helps demonstrate that individuals possess the theoretical knowledge and "science" behind why tasks and processes must be performed in a particular way, reasons Steven Adams, CRCST, BA, RN, nurse manager for sterile processing at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. “Obtaining this knowledge and having the ability to apply it to daily tasks provides a heightened sense of quality and reliability to the jobs performed.” This is especially true, he stresses, since the CS profession has such a direct impact on patient safety. “Our certification efforts all along have been -- and will continue to be -- based on improving patient safety.”
IAHCSMM maintains that all patients have the right to receive the highest quality of care during their visits to a healthcare facility. Through certification, CS technicians will be properly educated to assist in the challenge to reduce healthcare-associated infections. Specifically, the association contends that every patient deserves to have an educated, certified CS technician responsible for reprocessing his or her instruments. This is especially vital given that surgical instruments and equipment evolve at a rapid pace, and CS professionals must have the knowledge, skill sets and training needed to manage those sophisticated devices and operate the necessary equipment safely, consistently and effectively.
Raising the Bar for Quality
Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) standards clearly recommend certification for individuals responsible for sterilization activities and the management of Central Service processes. What’s more, JC’s Patient Safety goals require specific knowledge of the processing and monitoring of instrumentation and equipment to comply with their rigid quality control policies in order to prevent patient injury -- and surveyors are increasingly asking CS managers about their facility’s certification policies.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of certification lies in the fact that to maintain that certification status CS technicians must receive ongoing education and attain continuing education credits to demonstrate their continued competency in the role.
“CS technicians are part of the team of professionals dedicated to preventing infections and other adverse outcomes. Certification demonstrates a commitment to patient safety and quality,” confirms Josephine Colacci, JD, IAHCSMM’s government affairs director. Colacci and her IAHCSMM Advocacy team are educating state elected officials across the country on CS professionals’ critical role in healthcare facilities, and how certification and continuing education play into that mission. With two states already requiring certification of CS technicians and progress being made on the legislative front in a number of other states, it’s a matter of time before facilities nationwide are requiring certification of all professionals involved in the sterile processing function.
Many facilities, including those not currently operating in states that require CS certification, are already requiring it on their own because they recognize its value, are committed to quality and safety, and are working hard to stay ahead of the competition. It’s a prudent move, especially now that a more educated public means patients and their family members may be asking about certification and visiting facilities that can demonstrate a commitment to safety.
As 2015 incoming IAHCSMM president, David Jagrosse, CRCST, who also serves as CS manager at Middlesex Hospital in Middletown, Conn., explains, those who aren’t certified “simply aren’t as marketable.”
Experts agree that the best step toward advancing the profession and elevating the respect and knowledge of everyone who comprises it is to become more actively involved in the certification process. Nothing has ever been handed to CS professionals, Jagrosse stressed. “We must fight for our profession and, most importantly, for patient safety. Those who say they’ll wait for certification to be required is the equivalent to saying they don’t want to learn or enhance their skills until they are required to do so.”
*Those who are grandfathered in will still be required to complete 12 CEs annually in order to maintain their position in CS.
Julie E. Williamson is communications director/editor for IAHCSMM.