Sterile Processing Staff Can Lead Change Through Research


It starts with always asking “why” and with volunteering to research “the way it’s always been done."

(Adobe Stock)

(Adobe Stock)

Sterile processing department (SPD) staff members can help shape recommended and best practices that can eventually lead to regulation change from the ground up. It starts with always asking “why” and with volunteering to research “the way it’s always been done,” according to a presentation at the 2022 Healthcare Sterile Processing Association Annual Conference & Expo, held in San Antonio, Texas, April 23-27, 2022.1

Judith A Leddy, BSN, RN, CNOR, CSSM(E), CRMST SPS-RME, a coordinator/supervisor/educator in sterile processing services at Chalmers P. Wylie Veterans Ambulatory Care Center VA Central Ohio Healthcare System, led the discussion using stories and experience from her career as a surgical nurse.

“One of the first staff meetings I attended, I heard the remark, ‘Well, Amy says this, and Amy says that.’ After the meeting, I asked my chief, ‘who is Amy and why is she telling us what to do?’” Leddy said, not knowing they were referencing the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI).

Leddy discussed the differences between regulations, which are laws that can be enforced, and recommended practices, which are voluntary and based on evidence-based guidance for how to perform a procedure. Best practices, she said, are proven by research and experience and are established or proposed for standard widespread application. All in all, everything is based in research and SPD staff should not be fearful of conducting research, as finding “evidence” of a particular practice could contribute to it becoming a best practice.

Examples of areas ripe for research in SPD include, “Is there an increase in surgical site infections when using immediate-use steam sterilization?” or “does performing a quality check on only a portion of instrument sets lead to higher rates of incomplete inventories?”

Part of conducting research is gaining buy-in from managers or department heads. Leddy advised being specific in your ask. “Ask for 2 hours a week to conduct research, don’t ask for a whole day,” she said. She also encouraged gaining buy-in from colleagues who might be resistant to change. Having them on board can prove beneficial in the long run if you move to implementation.

Armed with the research findings, SPD staff can then lobby for change. Leddy recommends asking at least one other person to verify the data, findings, and conclusions, and then compiling a report with all the information and your recommendations for any changes to present to your manager.

“Do not be afraid to ask why a process is done in a particular way,” Leddy concluded. “If you understand the why, doing the what is easier. It can help you to recognize when something is not right, stop the line, and do what is right for better patient outcomes.”

Leddy, J. Best practices in sterile processing...or doing what is right for optimum patient care. Presented at: Healthcare Sterile Processing Association Annual Conference & Expo; San Antonio, Texas; April 23-27, 2022.

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