Situated between the OR and infection prevention, sterile processing plays a critical role in patient safety and preventing surgical site infections (SSIs), which account for 31% of all hospital-acquired infections. While a potential source for cost savings, the sterile processing area has traditionally stayed under hospital executives’ radar—until now.
New certification requirements emerging in states across the country have pushed sterile processing to the forefront of the infection prevention conversation, particularly in the wake of the Medicare hospital-acquired infection reduction program. Certification ensures that sterile processing staff members
- are fully apprised of the latest infection control techniques for disease prevention;
- have a fundamental knowledge of microbiology; and
- understand the important clinical support role of sterile processing as it relates to the OR, endoscopy centers, diagnostic radiology centers, and ambulatory surgery facilities.
Traditional sterile processing duties have increased in complexity alongside the development of robot-assisted surgeries and the use of flexible endoscopes in minimally invasive surgeries. Newer, more intricate instruments are difficult to clean, posing a greater risk for infection. A 2013 Infection Control Today Sterile Processing State of the Industry survey revealed that 79% of sterile processing technicians believe that there is a lack of awareness about the potential safety risks from inadequately reprocessed medical devices. Only 26% believe that the concepts of clean and cleanability have been adequately defined by industry guidelines and standards.
Even hospitals with the best sterile processing units face challenges, such as high surgery volume, undertrained staff, and insufficient inventory/sterile processing capacity. The current lack of standardization greatly contributes to those difficulties because it complicates existing processes and the way employees are expected to function as part of a cohesive team.
When asked what would improve Sterile Processing Department performance, 63% of survey respondents suggested education. Similarly, an overwhelming 87% cited lack of educational opportunities as one of the most important challenges that sterile processing professionals face. The likelihood of reliable compliance with set infection prevention procedures increases when processes are clear, practical, and adequately supervised, with necessary supplies readily available. Arming sterile processing professionals with the right knowledge, skills, and tools is the greatest defense against hospital-acquired infections and a strong offensive strategy for achieving maximum reimbursement.