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No More Excuses: Late Loaner Tray Deliveries Should Be a Thing of the Past

(Assuming there will always be emergent needs, we still need to fix the rest of the loaner process.)

Dear Mr. Spine and Mrs. Orthopedic Rep, this one is for you. And don’t think you’re getting out of this either, Mr. Courier, or even Ms. Territory Sales Manager.

We have heard every excuse under the sun for why you can’t get your vendor loaner trays to our sterile processing departments within established timelines, and as creative as the excuses may be, they are not good enough. You no longer have any excuse for not getting your trays delivered on time, and I’m about to tell you why.

Logistics lie

Perhaps the most common excuses heard at 6 a.m. from vendors in sterile processing departments around the country are:

“We didn’t have enough trays.”

“I had to overnight this set in from the warehouse.”

“I had to wait until the surgery was completed at the facility across town.”

Whatever the specifics may be, the theme is the same, logistics failed, so now this loaner tray is late. In one sense, we can all appreciate the situation our local reps may be in. They really do have limited inventory in the area. They really did have to overnight these trays specifically for this case.

But in another sense, it doesn’t matter. As understanding as we may be toward individual vendor reps, logistical failures of third-party vendor companies should not be accepted as the normal state of affairs when it comes to medical device reprocessing.

The truth is vendor logistical decisions are always based on a financial bottom line. Here’s what these situations really mean:

“We don’t have enough trays” means we don’t find your hospital valuable enough to dedicate adequate resources for your patient population.

“I had to overnight this set in from the warehouse” means your surgeries are so unimportant to us that we waited until the very last minute to ship your critical resources.

“I had to wait until the surgery was completed at the facility across town” means we prefer to maximize cost savings with limited inventory, even if it means impacting safe reprocessing timelines for our equipment.

Am I saying these vendor representatives and their logistics teams don’t care about patient safety? Of course not. But I am saying that at the root of logistic failures you will not find a good excuse; instead, you’ll find a business practice crowding out best practice. That’s something sterile processing departments shouldn’t put up with.

Communication matters

A close second place for the most common excuse for late loaner deliveries is some variation of a communication breakdown. They typically go something like this:

“The doctor’s office never told me there was a case.”

“Scheduling just notified me.”

Similar to the first logistical examples, communication breakdowns related to vendor tray deliveries rarely have anything to do with sterile processing departments themselves. They are almost always rooted in outside forces, such as physicians and scheduling departments. As such, they are not the responsibility of sterile processing to fix—neither are they adequate excuses for continuing to ignore written policies for on-time loaner deliveries.

No one here is arguing that doctor’s offices don’t sometimes (or perhaps even often) drop the ball when it comes to vendor notification. It’s not uncommon to find broken scheduling practices in a busy OR that leads to poor communication between schedulers and vendor reps. But the bottom line is that the burden for fixing this problem is ultimately on the vendor, not sterile processing.

Our roles as medical device reprocessors is to uphold standards and best practices to ensure adequate time is available and compliant processes are followed as it relates to vendor instrumentation. The fact that Dr. Johnson forgot to tell you about a case should not mean we are now pressured to cut corners and ignore manufacturer instructions for use to expedite a loaner tray for patients under our care. One breakdown in the process should not lead to another.

Investment, technology, and ownership

The reality of this entire conversation is that ten years ago, maybe you could have gotten away with some kind of excuse related to challenging loaner logistics or impossible communication barriers. But today, the loaner landscape no longer leaves room for the old “can’t” mentality. As a medical device manufacturer, if you choose to do business with a surgeon and hospital, you can and should dedicate appropriate inventory resources to ensure on-time deliveries of all nonemergent trays, every surgery, every time.

Furthermore, if you are aware of logistical issues and communication breakdowns related to doctor’s offices or scheduling departments, it is your responsibility as a vendor to proactively offer fixes to these problems as part and parcel to your general sales duties. If you are knowingly selling medical implants into a context that by its very nature is adding undue pressure and complexity to an already-stressed device reprocessing workflow, you are actually undermining the true meaning of patient care.

With the growing number of vendor management technologies and software on the market today that can interface with surgery scheduling systems, doctor’s offices, and sterile processing departments, the ability to hardwire compliant, on-time deliveries of your loaner instrumentation has never been easier.

But the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.

Them: “Hi, my name is Derrick. I’m a device rep, and I’m addicted to making excuses for late loaner deliveries.”

Us: “Hi, Derrick.”

Now step up, own your challenges, and let’s get back to putting patients first.

What say you?


Hank Balch is the Founder and President of Beyond Clean, the global leader in Sterile Processing education & networking. You can follow him on Linkedin at Hank Balch and find his Fighting Dirty video series on YouTube. Hank is an international thought leader and has written over 200 other Sterile Processing articles and commentary, along with published articles in Becker's Hospital Review, Infection Control Today, AAMI News, AAMI BI&T Journal, Outpatient Surgery Magazine, and contributions to Healthcare Purchasing News. Hank's CS/SPD team in Louisville, KY was named the "2016 CS/SPD Department of the Year" by HPN. He has also served as the founding President of the South Texas Association of Sterile Processing Services and President of the Kentuckiana IAHCSMM Chapter, in additional to being nominated for the 2017 President-Elect & 2018 President-Elect of the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management, now HSPA.


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