Fix the Problem


Fix the problem is a phrase we hear over and over from administration as it relates to the sterile processing department (SPD). How can the problem be fixed when upper management and, at times, the department supervisor arent familiar with the sterile processing procedures, much less how to fix any given problem? Another phrase that the operating room (OR) staff loves to say related to SPD personnel is, Dont they know? My personal favorite is hearing administration say, How much money can we save in the SPD? More often than not, the answer is none, that is, until organizations spend money in education and training not only for SPD personnel, but also for all of the department personnel who interact with them.

As a consultant, I travel from coast to coast and find that the problem is universal. Excluding New Jersey, SPD staff members are not required to be certified. However, the healthcare organization does expect them to responsible for expensive equipment, instrument substitution when the correct one is not available, knowing what set should be pulled for a case if it is not on the preference card, and understanding how instruments are used in various procedures. SPD technicians are expected to think like OR technicians; now, how would an SPD technician know how instruments are used in the OR when SPD is always an afterthought? Most organizations dont feel it is important to budget for education and training opportunities for SPD technicians. SPD technicians are paid lower wages and have thankless jobs.

Todays healthcare organizations must recognize the need to not only educate the staff, but to enhance the skills of the management team as well. Sterile processing is one of the most important departments in the hospital. An organization would not want a physician operating on a patient if he or she didnt know anything about the procedure, so why should the expectation be any less for the technician preparing the instruments used for the case?

It is time to raise the expectation. Lets educate healthcare administrators, lets educate the SPD staff, and lets empower SPD managers and give them the tools they need to be successful.

It is time to stop being reactive by spending all day chasing sets and case carts that should have been ready for todays cases, and start being proactive and spend that time preparing for the next days cases.

There is a saying, Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. The SPD does not have to be in a crisis mode. Isnt it time to stop saying, Fix the problem, and asking, Dont they know? and How can we save money in the SPD? Invest in the future of your SPD and the rest will fall into place. 

Karen Y. Cherry, MBA, has worked in the healthcare industry for more than 20 years. She is the principal of SIPS Healthcare Consults, and is a certified central sterile training instructor through IAHCSMM.

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