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Fighting the War: Relationship Battles Between OR and SPD

[Our Sterile Processing teams #FightDirty every day. But what happens when we lose focus and begin fighting each other instead? And how do we reorient our battle lines to fight along side each other, instead of against each other, for the ultimate mission of safe patient care? The following guest article by Casey Evans seeks to tackle this problem. We hope you enjoy! * BC]


Written by Casey Evans, BHS, CRCST, TS-C, Sterile Processing Manager & Member of the Beyond Clean Advisory Group

Relationships contribute to every aspect of our lives. We depend on relationships for connection and purpose. Work relationships are no different and sometimes manifest themselves with designated "work husbands and wives," best friends, and even soulmates. Relationships are built when so much time is spent with co-workers working toward the same goal of providing exceptional surgical services. But what happens when our interactions divide service lines, threaten healthcare relationships, and, most importantly, affect patient outcomes?

Although each department is essential for the survival of the other, the relationships between us can be anything but harmonious. Surgery (OR) and Sterile Processing (SP) can turn into war zones. Sides are taken, swords are drawn, and blame is aimed. What can be done to (re)unite departments with a common goal of superior patient care?

Marching in someone else's shoe covers. Seeing someone's duties has an entirely different effect when physically taking on those daily responsibilities. Encourage OR Techs to visit decontam, dress out, and stand side by side at the sink with their fellow soldiers. Active participation gives employees the chance to do the "heavy lifting" and note the time and effort it takes to make instruments clean and safe. In contrast, SP Techs should visit the operating room during an actual surgical case. They should be instructed to observe an OR tech's back table and the meticulous setup required. They should also note the dynamic environment. The stress of surgeons' demands and patient focus is a heavy weight carried by every OR tech. Both views may be uncharted territory for both forces, but seeing those struggles can create understanding when future conflicts arise.

Knowing the enemy. Most disputes arise between departments because of a lack of understanding for each profession. In keeping with the above-uncharted territory, each tech needs to understand each other's scope of practice. Collectively, OR Techs assume SP Techs know all surgical procedures and surgeons' preferences, but that is a false assumption. In comparison, SP Techs expect OR Techs to understand processing times, biological processes, and inspection techniques. Limitations must be discussed with both sides, changing the landscape of expectations.

An Experienced General of War. The best way to merge armies is to have a leader with experience from both areas. Operating Room professionals are very territorial and quickly ostracizes outliers. They can, however, be more receptive when working with a leader that has been through their OR boot camp. The leader should use their knowledge of the OR in conjunction with Sterile Processing and find common ground that can represent both sides equally. Each department feels represented by knowing the leader has personal experiences in each area. Growth will be seen as a product fostered by professional empathy.

"The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war."
-Norman Schwarzkopf

Surgery is often viewed as a battleground for many reasons. What makes it victorious is the collaboration of healthcare professionals working toward a common goal. Losing battles are expected, but the war can end by using relationships built on mutual respect and professionalism.

The groups can take many small steps daily to help grow that important healthcare family. Hopefully, this will help both departments march as one.

Interdepartmental relationships are essential to the success of all healthcare organizations. The complexity of surgical services presents tricky situations for leaders. The ideas presented in this article can help alleviate struggles and unify departments improving surgical performance. By sharing the workload, knowing each profession, and designating an experienced leader, the OR and SPD become one solid unit ready to care for their surgical patients.


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