Marcy Konja, CRCST, CSPDT, CHL, CSPDM
Senior Director of Sterile Processing and Quality Improvement
July 28, 2017
Hospital administrators and managers focused on continuous improvement are increasing attention on their sterile processing departments to improve quality, efficiency, surgeon satisfaction, and patient care. No one wants to be the next ugly bioburden headline, so many leading medical centers are engaging expert consultants to achieve big results in a short time. Often-identified problem areas in sterile processing include:
Staffing – There’s a shortage of experienced sterile processing leaders and certified technicians, and hospitals often struggle to keep sterile processing positions filled.
Quality – The inability to define and gather key performance indicators (KPIs) makes it impossible to properly manage a quality improvement program.
Efficiency – While there is a tendency to point fingers, many hospitals lack the expertise and bandwidth to identify and fix the bottlenecks and errors that add expense and compromise patient care.
Surgeon Satisfaction – Surgeons are frustrated by case delays due to workflow inefficiency, bioburden, instrument condition, and related issues.
Does any of this sound familiar? Improving the sterile processing function is more than just hiring additional people, buying shiny new equipment, installing bigger cabinets, or changing the schedule. Improvements in quality and process are essential, but how do you create lasting change?
It starts by identifying and prioritizing the opportunities for improvement. To accomplish this, many hospitals are entering into consulting arrangements with experienced sterile processing experts who can provide best practices, strategic planning, and program implementation to ensure the highest standards of quality and patient care while improving operational efficiency and equipment oversight. SpecialtyCare’s consultants, for instance, can perform quality and operational assessments, collaborate on department and workflow redesign, train staff, establish performance indicators, and even manage the improvement project.
Process Flow/KPIs – An experienced leader in Lean Six Sigma or a similar quality methodology can help hospitals create sterile processing value stream maps that identify solutions for bottlenecks, errors, and defects. In addition to improving process flows, the Lean Six Sigma consultant will establish baseline KPIs for instrument tracking and availability, tray reviews and standardization, immediate use stream sterilization, etc. Performance metrics enable better management of activities, which can increase surgeon satisfaction, reduce costs, and improve overall efficiency, effectiveness, and patient safety.
Training – In addition to helping hospitals recruit and retain people, effective training is a vital component of lasting process improvement and high-value certification. As sterile processing employees prepare for the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management (IAHCSMM) exam, they gain the ability to apply learned principles that improve professionalism and performance. Once certified, technicians are on track to become leaders who can guide continuous improvement in sterile processing departments. This is just one reason why SpecialtyCare requires national certification for all of our technicians even though only four states require that level of demonstrated ability.
Perspective – While a hospital may have significant expertise in sterile processing, there is no substitute for an objective observer who can clarify the root cause of performance issues and prioritize activities that track with performance metrics. An outside consultant can also help identify and avoid regulatory compliance issues that can have implications far beyond the core goals of process efficiency, reduced infection rates, and patient care quality. The Joint Commission is another example of the value of an outside perspective.
A sterile processing consultant who has the expertise to conduct a useful assessment and create and implement strategic plans can quickly jump start a quality improvement program without disrupting the department’s regular activities. This is a significant advantage over an in-house approach to improvement. Imagine you’re riding a bicycle that slips a chain. It’s a basic fix, but you have to stop pedaling to do it. When your sterile processing chain slips, you don’t get to stop, and it’s very difficult to fix the bike yourself while you’re still pedaling.
Increasingly, many high-profile hospitals are proactively seeking outside help for their sterile processing departments. The hospital’s team can keep pedaling while the consultants work with in-house leadership to repair the bike in mid-ride. And once you fix the bike, the ride is much smoother for everyone.