How to Handle Vendors Who Visit the Sterile Processing Department

This new column, SPD Dialogue, will respond to questions asked by sterile processing professionals. We hope you find this dialogue helpful and informative. Q: My loaner representative wants to wash his instruments in my department. I think this would be a great help to my SPD. Should I permit this?

By Nancy Chobin, RN, AAS, ACSP, CSPM

This new column, SPD Dialogue, will respond to questions asked by sterile processing professionals. We hope you find this dialogue helpful and informative.

Q: My loaner representative wants to wash his instruments in my department. I think this would be a great help to my SPD. Should I permit this?

A: While it is understandable that you would like the additional “help,” vendors are not facility employees therefore they are not permitted to perform any work in SPD. There are many reasons why this is not acceptable:

1. SPD is responsible for the cleaning, assembly, inspection and sterilization of all reusable medical devices and instruments.  Therefore, you have to assume this responsibility, not the sales rep.

2. Sales reps may know the instrumentation but may not be knowledgeable in the standards that set our practice.

3. The rep may not be familiar with your reprocessing equipment which could cause an injury to him/her or result in a cleaning failure.

4. AAMI standards recommend that: The responsibility for sterile processing should be assigned to qualified individuals who have demonstrated competence in all aspects of sterile processing: decontamination, preparation, packaging, sterilization, sterile storage, and distribution of sterile medical devices.

Qualifications include: 
a. Demonstrated knowledge of and documented competence in all aspects of decontamination, including sorting, disassembly/reassembly, manual and mechanical cleaning methods, microbicidal processes, equipment operation, standard/transmission-based precautions, and engineering and work-practice controls;
b. Demonstrated knowledge of and documented competence in the operation of the specific steam sterilizing system used by the healthcare facility (there are a variety of systems in general use);
c. Demonstrated knowledge of and documented competence in principles of sterilization and infectious disease transmission; infection prevention and control; and all aspects of steam sterilization (including decontamination, inspection, and packaging of items to be sterilized, sterilizing procedures, equipment operation, and safety precautions); and
d. Demonstrated knowledge of and documented competence in worker safety as it relates to medical device processing and sterilization. It is recommended that all personnel performing sterile processing activities be certified as a condition of employment. At a minimum, all such personnel should successfully complete a central service certification examination within two years of employment and should maintain that certification throughout their employment.

I would inquire why the rep is “volunteering” to do this. In addition, I would ask the rep to provide hands-on in-service to your staff on the manufacturer’s recommended cleaning protocols making sure you have a copy of the manufacturer instructions for use (IFUs) to follow. Particular attention should be made to multi-part items requiring disassembly. Take photos of those items and post them in the Decontamination Area for staff reference.  Perform staff competency assessments on the instrument sets in question.

Nancy Chobin, RN, AAS, ACSP, CSPM, is vice president of sterile processing services at Barnabas Health in West Orange, N.J.

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