Eliminate Sterile Processing Stigma to Enhance Patient Safety

While surgeons, operating room nurses and anesthesiologists have more visibility in providing safe and high-quality surgical care, central sterile processing staff also plays a critical role in delivering excellent patient care Without sterilized instruments, properly organized and available in trays, patients would be at risk for surgical site infections, and cases would be delayed as nurses search for the appropriate tools. 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, say proper recognition and appreciation for the sterile processing department and its staff is long overdue. They explain how hospitals can treat sterile processing with more respect to empower staff in patient safety efforts.

Respecting the sterile processing department and staff

"In years past, central sterile processing staff have been looked down upon as employees who exist on a lower level or as an uneducated group who do not know what they were doing," Ms. McAfee says. "The old stigma needs to go away. [They should be treated as] great partners and team players who are part of giving the best surgical care in the hospital."


Job rotations
One of the reasons for this stigma may be a lack of visibility in the OR. Hospitals can break down barriers between the sterile processing department and OR staff by cross-training staff members through different areas of responsibilities that others face on a day-to-day base. "The surgeons can really help by visiting the [central sterile] department and providing in-services on their specialty," Ms. McAfee says. This practice not only helps people understand the role of sterile processing in the OR, but it also promotes a collaborative relationship between the OR, the surgeons and the sterile processing team, which is crucial for a safe and efficient OR.

Involvement in committees

Another way to eliminate silos and recognize sterile processing is to involve sterile processing staff in committees that make decisions about OR policies and infection control practices. For example, the central sterile processing manager should be included in infection control meetings, Ms. McAfee says. Including sterile processing staff in OR and safety initiatives can yield significant benefits in the quality of care delivered. Ms. Cooper says an Illinois facility with one of the lowest infection rates attributed their success in large part to the sterile processing department. "It really does make a huge difference," she says.

Support from leadership
In addition, a hospital can show respect for sterile processing by providing support from key leaders. "The directors of perioperative service need to understand the role this department plays in performing quality outcomes and make sure that they have the necessary resources to do their job properly," Ms. Cooper says.

Overcoming resistance to change

Giving sterile processing staff the respect they deserve is also a step in gaining their buy-in for new projects or other changes. Resistance to change is one of the greatest challenges in maintaining a successful sterile processing department, according to Ms. McAfee. She says one way to break down resistance is to use a technique called Appreciative Inquiry, in which the perioperative director, central sterile or sterile processing department manager and other leaders seek out the best in people, their organizations and the world around them. "You have to motivate [central sterile/sterile processing] staff and respect them. You assist them in understanding that their job is of [the] utmost importance," Ms. McAfee says.

One of the effects of the longstanding stigma attached to sterile processing is that many staff in this department feel disconnected from patient care and underappreciated, according to Ms. McAfee. Perioperative leaders need to convey to sterile processing staff members that they are appreciated and that their involvement is critical for meeting overall goals of patient safety and quality outcomes. Ms. McAfee suggests having staff members verbalize what they do to help them understand their role in patient care. "Everything they do touches another human being's life. If they understand that what they do touches that person and the quality of care is affected by what they provide, it [helps them buy in to change]," she says. "I have a motto 'One team — one goal!'"

More Articles on Sterile Processing:

4 Common Sterile Processing Mistakes
5 Best Practices for Central Sterile Processing

AAMI Releases Sterilization Tips

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