It’s true that the main source of revenue for a hospital may be the OR. But if the OR is the heart, the Sterile Processing Department (SPD) and Central Sterile (CS) techs are the heartbeat, working behind the scenes to make sure everything is ready and prepared for the surgical procedures. The locations of these departments in the hospital might be far from each other, but their goal is the same: to protect the welfare and safety of patients. Teamwork is vital to the life of the hospital, and to the lives of its patients.
Like most behind-the-scenes departments in a hospital—including the cafeteria and environmental services (EVS)—SPD is usually located in the basement. While these departments never come into direct contact with patients, they support the hospital as a whole. A common misconception about these groups is that anyone can work in sterile processing and those professionals are all interchangeable.
Because the OR and SPD are not usually located near each other, OR personnel may not actually know what goes on in SPD, despite how vital SPD is to the success of what transpires in the OR.
Here’s what might surprise you about your SPD department:
- There is a lot of technology involved. Did you know that many facilities can track an instrument’s journey through the sterilization process and up to the patient? A tracking system is vital for tracing instrumentation throughout the process; this is key information when trying to minimize patient infections, especially when part of determining the efficacy of the sterilization process involves monitoring the incubation results of the biological spores. Tracking systems also carry crucial information which will interface with Electronic Medical Records.
- Technology notwithstanding, it’s a complex process. It’s hard to know what goes on in SPD when there’s a lack of visibility in the OR. Many doctors don’t really know what goes on in SPD because they’ve never had the opportunity to tour the department or talk to the techs and managers to understand the process. Organizing regular staff tours of SPD will not only help establish a relationship between the OR and SPD, but also will help each department understand a little more about the other.
- Techs receive more training now than ever before. Education and certification are available through the Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution (CBSPD) and the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Material Management. You can attend local, regional and national conferences in your area, or check out some of the free Sterile Processing/Central Sterile education available on Medline University.
- Most facilities have between two and four levels of CS techs, depending on duties. Duties will vary by facility; Tech I starts with basic duties such as prep and pack and decontamination, while a Tech IV might have to put together more sets, handle biologicals or perform sterilization duties.
- Central Sterile techs and SPD play a vital and intricate role in the continual pursuit to minimize healthcare-associated infections. According to the CDC, HAIs occurred in an estimated 722,000 patients in acute care hospitals, and caused 75,000 deaths in 2011. Without proper decontamination, preparing and packaging, and sterile instrumentation, patients could be at risk for surgical site infections. It is very important to involve your SPD staff in your facility’s infection control meetings and initiatives.
As we celebrate the upcoming Central Sterile Week (Oct. 11 to 17, 2015), take some time to stop by your hospital’s SPD and get to know the processes and the incredible people behind them. Or share some of your plans and ideas for Central Sterile Week below in the comments. And if you have any more questions, we can help provide you with advice or guidance.