5 Best Practices for Central Sterile Processing

Central sterile processing plays a key role in hospitals' infection prevention efforts, particularly in relation to surgery patients. Failing to follow the appropriate sterile processing standards can result in infections, which increases costs and causes harm to patients. Alecia Cooper, RN, BS, MBA, CNOR, senior nursing consultant at Surgical Directions, and Valeria McAfee, MBA-HCM, a central sterile processing consultant for Surgical Directions, share five best practices for sterile processing.

1. Ensure proper training. One of the most important elements in central sterile processing is employees' training. Ms. Cooper suggests requiring certification for sterile processing staff to ensure everyone is educated on correct practices. Currently, many staff members get on-the-job training; while this training is not bad, it needs to be supplemented with a formal certification course, according to Ms. Cooper. Furthermore, education should be ongoing so staff stay updated on current guidelines.

In addition to knowing the facts of how to sterilize, staff should also understand why sterilization is important, according to Ms. McAfee. "If they understand why they need to make sure there's no bioburden and that [instruments] are properly functioning, it enhances the quality of work that the sterile processing person does," she says.

2. Adhere to evidence-based standards. Sterile processing employees should follow standards set by professional organizations such as the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation and The Joint Commission, according to Ms. McAfee.

3. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations. Instruments should be sterilized according to the manufacturer's recommendation. Because different instruments may have different manufacturers and different instructions, Ms. McAfee suggests sending the manufacturer's recommendation with each instrument that comes into the sterile processing department.

4. Build a strong working relationship with OR staff. Sterile processing staff and operating room staff need to work together to ensure proper sterilization and to learn from each other. "It has to be a collaborative team effort, because the OR [team] is your defense in surgery — they are the ones who will recognize something they feel might not be properly sterilized," Ms. McAfee says. "They need to give feedback to the central sterile processing area, [which can] take the information and say 'How can we make this better? What did we do wrong and how can we improve?'"

Feedback from the central sterile processing department to the OR can assist both parties in recognizing opportunities for improvement, such as ensuring at the end of a surgical procedure that dirty instruments are sprayed or covered with a damp towel at the point of use before being transported back to sterile processing. This practice prevents the bioburden from drying on the instruments and allows ease of cleaning the instruments, according to Ms. McAfee. Open communication between sterile processing and the OR is essential for sharing this type of information. "When there's not a collaborative working relationship, you are not enabled to make the kind of changes that are needed for improving patient care," Ms. Cooper says.

5. Cross-train staff. One of the best ways to promote collaboration among OR and sterile processing staff is to schedule rotations in which staff members rotate into other departments, according to Ms. Cooper. For example, an OR staff member would work in the sterile processing department for a day, and vice versa. This practice allows staff to better understand the practices and challenges in each department.

Ms. Cooper suggests beginning the rotation as part of new employees' orientation to emphasize the importance of the OR-sterile processing relationships. Hospitals should then schedule rotations throughout the year to continue cross-training.

More Articles on Surgical Directions:

Case Study: Strategic Perioperative Growth Plan Spurred 7% Jump in Surgical Volume
Committing to Quality, Efficiency: OR Huddles in Action

The OR Efficiency Game Plan: Using Daily Huddles to Streamline Care

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