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Empowering Partnerships: The Interdisciplinary Support System of Sterile Processing

Updated: Mar 1

[This guest column was written by Beyond Clean Advisory Group member Brandon Todd, MDiv, ThM, CRCST, CHL, CIS, CER, Sterile Processing System Director at Norton Healthcare in Louisville, KY]


Group of clinicians collaborating

In the intricate web of hospital operations, the Sterile Processing Department (SPD) stands as a cornerstone of patient safety, meticulously ensuring that every surgical instrument is properly cleaned, inspected, and sterilized for each procedure. Avid followers of the Beyond Clean blog are likely already well-versed in the complexities of the SPD world and the dedication required to uphold its mission.


Podcast promo graphic of SPD technician

Season 23 of the Beyond Clean podcast shed light on 'The roles that make us great,' showcasing the diverse talents and expertise within SPD, from frontline technicians to senior executives. In addition to these vital roles within SPD, there is also a variety of interdisciplinary partners who contribute to the success of Sterile Processing. The seamless operation of a high-functioning Sterile Processing Department is not a solitary endeavor and cannot be achieved by SPD staff alone. Our success hinges on intentional collaboration with various departments across the hospital ecosystem.


We often say that SPD is the heart of the hospital, but just as a well-functioning heart relies on the cooperation of various organs within the body, SPD thrives through collaboration with a variety of hospital departments. In this article, we delve into some of these key partnerships and their invaluable contributions to our mission for excellence in patient care. If you have not already done so, I encourage you to build relationships and familiarize yourself with these various disciplines that support your department in unique ways.


1. Operating Room (OR) Leadership: The operating room is the primary customer of every SPD, therefore they are the department that has the most intimate collaboration with our mission. OR leaders oversee surgical procedures, staffing, and instrument usage in the operating room. Building strong relationships with OR leadership ensures that SPD understands the specific instrument needs for each procedure. In most hospitals, the SPD manager will report to the OR director. Therefore, when issues arise or SPD leaders need support, OR leadership will be directly involved in the outcomes and operations of SPD. Maintaining open communication with OR leadership, SPD can anticipate instrument demands, optimize instrument processing workflows, and minimize delays in surgical procedures. Familiarize yourself with the leadership structure in your hospital and build a coalition of invested leaders in your OR who understand the complexities of SPD and who will support your mission to continuously improve the service your department provides them. Don’t tolerate a culture of us vs. them, but understand that the success of SPD is earned by a collaborative relationship with your OR.


2. Infection Prevention (IP): Infection prevention specialists are responsible for developing and implementing strategies to prevent healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) within the hospital. Collaboration with IP teams ensures that SPD maintains strict adherence to infection control protocols, such as proper cleaning, disinfection, and sterilization techniques. By working closely with IP, SPD can identify potential infection risks, implement preventive measures, and continuously monitor and improve sterile processing practices to safeguard patient safety. Infection Prevention leaders often have a lot of sway with senior leadership in most healthcare organizations so they are a strategic partner in justifying capital needs to improve patient care. Some SPD leaders hesitate to involve IP out of fear of them exposing issues within their department. While they are not experts in SPD processes, they have a unique perspective that should be consulted frequently. If you have not yet developed a relationship with your infection preventionist, reach out and get to know them and share the challenges you are facing and they will provide a lot of value for you and your department.


3. Biomedical Engineering (Biomed): Biomedical engineering professionals are tasked with maintaining, servicing, and repairing medical equipment, including sterilizers, washers, and other devices used in SPD. Collaboration with Biomed ensures that SPD equipment operates reliably and efficiently, minimizing downtime and ensuring optimal performance. By partnering with Biomed, SPD leaders and technicians can address equipment maintenance issues promptly, implement upgrades or modifications as needed, and maintain compliance with regulatory requirements. SPD cannot operate without state-of-the-art equipment, and your Biomed team is the one tasked with the responsibility to maintain this equipment, but building good relationships with these experts you will better serve your staff by having working equipment.


4. Facilities Management: Facilities management oversees the physical infrastructure and maintenance of the hospital, including SPD's workspace, equipment, and utilities. Collaboration with facilities management ensures that SPD's physical environment meets regulatory requirements, safety standards, and operational needs. By partnering with facilities management, SPD can address facility-related issues promptly, implement preventive maintenance programs, and optimize the layout and design of SPD's workspace to enhance efficiency and workflow. Just think of all the infrastructure that supports SPD and you will recognize just how important facilities engineering is for the success of your department. Just like all these roles mentioned in this article, these individuals are not experts in SPD requirements so you may need to provide them some guidance, but their expertise in facilities management is vital to your department.


5. Materials Management/Supply Chain Specialists: Materials management specialists oversee the procurement, inventory management, and distribution of supplies and equipment throughout the hospital, including those used in SPD. Collaboration with materials management ensures that SPD has access to a consistent supply of high-quality consumables, such as sterilization wraps, detergents, and biological indicators. By working closely with materials management, SPD can optimize inventory levels, streamline procurement processes, and ensure cost-effective supply chain management. Building relationships with your supply chain experts can help ensure you are well stocked for all your supplies. They are also excellent partners to consult when new products come on the market. The supply chain crisis that followed Covid-19 shed a lot of light on the critical role materials management has in the success or failure of SPD.


6. Environmental Services Department (ESD): ESD staff are responsible for maintaining cleanliness and sanitation throughout the hospital, including SPD's workspace. Collaboration with ESD ensures that SPD maintains a clean, hygienic environment conducive to sterile processing activities. By working closely with ESD, SPD can implement effective cleaning and disinfection protocols, address environmental hygiene issues promptly, and minimize the risk of cross-contamination or environmental contamination during sterile processing. SPD, especially Decontam, is a dirty business; we cannot do what we do in patient safety and infection prevention if our work environment is not clean and tidy. Due to staffing concerns and lack of training ESD is often underserving SPD. By building strong partnerships with ESD leaders and technicians, SPD leaders can communicate concerns and elevate the level of treatment ESD can provide.


7. Information Technology (IT) Support: IT professionals provide technical support and maintenance for electronic systems used in SPD, such as instrument tracking software, network connectivity, and documentation platforms. Collaboration with IT support ensures the reliability, security, and efficiency of SPD's electronic systems. By partnering with IT, SPD can address technical issues promptly, implement system upgrades or enhancements, and leverage data analytics to monitor and improve process efficiency and compliance. Not all of us in SPD are tech-savvy, as technology continues to advance and as security risks increase IT’s role in SPD will continue to evolve. In the past few years, I have found myself relying more and more on the expertise and insights of IT professionals.


8. Clinical Effectiveness Teams: Clinical effectiveness teams focus on evaluating and improving clinical processes and outcomes across the hospital. Collaboration with clinical effectiveness teams enables SPD to benchmark performance metrics, identify opportunities for process improvement, and implement evidence-based practices to enhance sterile processing efficiency and effectiveness. By partnering with clinical effectiveness teams, SPD can participate in quality improvement initiatives, monitor key performance indicators, and drive continuous improvement in sterile processing practices to optimize patient outcomes. Many in SPD leaders may not realize that they have a dedicated team of process-oriented, Lean 6 Sigma trained experts that can help assess and improve their processes. Ever since I discovered these experts within my hospital I have utilized them for dozens of various projects to improve quality and performance within SPD. Their approach to process improvement is invaluable to what we do in SPD. I encourage you to contact your Clinical Effectiveness team and share some issues that you haven’t been able to solve. They will likely add a lot of value to you as a leader.


9. Patient Safety/Risk Management Teams: Patient safety and risk management teams focus on identifying and mitigating risks to patient safety within the hospital. Collaboration with these teams enables SPD to proactively identify potential hazards, implement risk mitigation strategies, and promote a culture of safety within sterile processing activities. By working closely with patient safety and risk management teams, SPD can participate in root cause analysis, incident reporting, and process improvement initiatives to minimize the risk of adverse events and enhance patient safety. These folks often get involved when problems are exposed in a survey. Don’t wait for problems to be identified before you reach out to these leaders, build a proactive relationship with them and solicit their insights to prevent harm and develop best practices within your SPD.


10. Regulatory Compliance/Quality Assurance Teams: Regulatory compliance and quality assurance teams ensure that SPD processes adhere to regulatory requirements, industry standards, and best practices. Collaboration with these teams enables SPD to maintain compliance with accreditation standards, such as those set forth by regulatory agencies like the Joint Commission, DNV, or OSHA. By partnering with regulatory compliance and quality assurance teams, SPD can participate in audits, inspections, and quality improvement activities to monitor and continuously improve sterile processing practices, ensuring the highest levels of quality and safety for patients. Most SPD leaders are well versed in manufacturers' IFU’s and AAMI standards but these experts will help guide you in areas potentially not addressed in the documents you are most familiar with. Rely on this team to elevate the best practices within your department.

 


 

While these are not the only departments that support the success of SPD, they are certainly some of the most valuable partners to engage with throughout your sterile processing career. Each and every one of them plays a large role in the successful operations and outcomes of a sterile processing department. Their unique backgrounds, expertise, and skills contribute greatly to the overall mission of SPD. By fostering strong relationships and collaboration with these key departments, SPD leaders can leverage their expertise, resources, and support to enhance the efficiency, effectiveness, and safety of sterile processing operations, ultimately improving patient outcomes and satisfaction. If you have not already made connections with these departments I strongly encourage you to reach out to them and learn from their experience. With patients’ lives depending on us, we owe it to them to pull together the best of each team to support the magic happening in sterile processing departments across the world. None of us are as smart or capable as all of us, it takes a village of diverse experts to succeed in our mission.


[This guest column was written by Beyond Clean Advisory Group member Brandon Todd, MDiv, ThM, CRCST, CHL, CIS, CER, Sterile Processing System Director at Norton Healthcare in Louisville, KY]

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