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No SPD Left Behind: The Power & Importance of Surgery Centers, Rural Hospitals, & Small Town Clinics

There are no little places or little people in the world of Sterile Processing.

Every safe surgery we support - from a simple incision to the most complex pediatric heart procedure - is a big deal. Each and every patient matters. Your facility may not cast a large shadow in an industry that highlights sprawling health systems and high-powered GPOs, but you can stand as a beacon of hope and healing to those patients who need immediate access to care, right where they are. Your "volumes" may be low, but your "value" to these patients and their families is just the opposite.

So, in light of this understanding, how are SPD professionals, leaders, and vendors to think about these outposts of the Sterile Processing kingdom, dotting the landscape from the back roads of rural America to the main streets of Small Town, USA?

1)  Ground Zero for Getting it Right

While smaller SPD departments are by no means exempt from the common process challenges of their larger counterparts, many surgery centers and clinics have the ability to lock-down their processing systems in a way that big city hospitals could only dream about. SPD technicians in these facilities tend to have much closer relationships with their OR peers, less diverse of an instrument inventory, and less complexity across the board – meaning, when these departments get it right, boy do they get it right! These small-scale success stories, when they happen, should be seen as models to be reproduced and examples to be emulated by their industry peers.

2)  Specialization Stations

In addition to seeing smaller SPD departments as more manageable “opportunities for excellence,” we should remember that many of these facilities (especially certain surgery centers) are prime locations for the specialization of SPD professionals in particular service lines. A single technician who supports ten eye cases a day, five days a week, gains a level of “clinical-muscle memory” that is almost impossible for the average, general SPD technician to gain at a larger facility. These specialists can learn to sense the smallest tug on a Vannas scissor or identify an incomplete cataract tray just by looking at it, driving up the quality of their surgical trays and driving down service defects. It’s no wonder that many SPD professionals like this become beloved by the surgeons and OR teams that they support.

3)  Incognito Ivory Towers

With the decrease in surgical variables found in smaller clinics and surgery centers, there is a prime opportunity for important SPD-centered research to occur in partnership with these sterile processing teams. How long does a 53-instrument set take to process if you are actually following the manufacturer’s IFUs for decontamination, inspection, lubrication, and assembly? Is there a better way to provide a quality test to our rigid scopes prior to sterilization? While you may not get the big name facility noted on your study, you very well may get the big breakthrough on the next big product or process in the SPD-universe. As the healthcare professionals at these facilities grow and move on, your rock-star research will follow in their wake. But more importantly, you will have made a real impact, on real patients, with real industry research to back it up.


Even apart from process improvement, specialization, and research opportunities, the wider focus for the SPD-industry in regards to these far-flung processing locations should be one of constant recognition and remembrance. Industry importance should not measured by number of staff or size of department budget. Vendors who ignore or relegate these SPD professionals to the back of the line in terms of educational support and follow-up, do so at their peril. Sure, you may be able to make a bigger bonus at my 800-bed facility – but what are you going to do when I start asking about the last time you visited the surgery center on the outskirts of town? Not only should SPD leaders at larger facilities lead by example in this area (offering support to their local clinic/surgery center peers), we should also make it clear that we will not allow vendors to gloss over the needs of those without the purchasing leverage and high-profile that our larger facilities happen to enjoy.

If we are going to go up in this industry, we must go up #Together.

No SPD left behind!

What say you?

Hank Balch

Beyond Clean © 2019


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