Author: J. Vincent Sanchez, CRCST
Sterile processing departments are some of the most data-rich environments in healthcare facilities. As surgical cases are completed and inventory is reprocessed, an SPD’s inventory tracking system collects vast amounts of information. This information can be used for a variety of purposes involving department staffing, inventory management, and departmental compliance.
For a decade, I worked as a certified SPD technician for a large hospital system in Houston. There, I specialized in orthopedic instrumentation, and I managed their instrument tracking database, as well as all of the data it collected at one of the system’s community hospitals. From that experience, I’ve seen firsthand the value this data can have for SPDs. Here are a few ways you can utilize data to benefit your SPD:
Guide the Recruitment and Scheduling of Department Staff
There are a variety of ways data captured by the SPD’s tray tracking system can guide you toward staffing needs and solutions.
With the average cost per hire at $4,129 in 20161 and the average SPD technician salary at $47,932 per year,2 it’s important not to overstaff SPD—but if your department is falling behind on reprocessing and your staff’s productivity levels are through the roof, additional staff may be the only solution. The data from your tray tracking system can point out the need for more department staff—and help you make your case for more staff to upper management. In fact, in the last year, a hospital system I work with in Houston has used productivity data (from Censis Technologies’ MaestroTM tray tracking system) to justify hiring more than 30 new SPD technicians.
You can also use staff productivity data to make sure all employees are maintaining a base level of production—and you can use the same data to schedule the most productive technicians for the busiest processing times.
If the data shows that certain instrumentation sets are processed more often than others, you can assign certain staff members as specialists for those sets. When I worked as an orthopedic specialist, staff in the operating room could come to me with their concerns related to the orthopedic service line and I could turn around and, in collaboration with the rest of the SPD, make sure their needs were immediately addressed.
Improve Inventory Management
Managing inventory is both complex and expensive. With surgical sets costing multiple thousands of dollars, it is critical that hospitals don’t overstock inventory to the point that it sits on the shelf unused. It’s also important to have enough trays to meet the surgical demand without the immediate use of steam sterilization.
How can SPDs use data to strike an inventory balance?
Modern tray tracking systems (such as Censis Technologies’ MaestroTM and CensiTracTM) collect inventory utilization data on both the tray level and the instrument level. Managers can use tray-level usage data to determine which trays are over- or understocked, and they can use instrument-level data to gauge whether or not individual trays have excess instrumentation inside of them.
This can decrease costs associated with overstocked trays (a single instrument costs between $0.34 and $0.47 to reprocess3) while improving sterilization procedures for trays that are understocked and may be rushed through steam sterilization in an attempt to keep up with demand, a practice that is contrary to AAMI ST794 guidelines.
Additionally, using data to identify items that haven’t moved from storage for long periods of time can allow staff to repurpose unused instruments. For example, if a facility has 10 major basic sets, four of which aren’t used, and the same facility needs two more minor basic sets with similar instruments, the SPD staff could break down the unused major basic trays and build the additional minor basic sets.
SPD compliance is key to ensuring patient safety, a top concern for healthcare facilities. There are a vast number of ways that data can be used to support compliance:
Data regarding complete and incomplete tray assembly can be used to identify sources of lost or missing instruments. This ensures that when trays are assembled, they are complete, which later prevents delays or issues during the surgical case.
MaestroTM can capture the specific reason for immediate use steam sterilization, enabling your SPD to identify consistent areas where sterility is being compromised. For example, if data shows consistent tears in wrappers, staff may investigate metal storage shelves and find burrs that snag wrapping material as sets are removed from storage.
Location history data can reveal breaks in a tray’s reprocessing cycle. Perhaps a tray that’s supposed to go through the automated washer-disinfector instead always goes through the hand-wash window. Identifying these types of issues helps reduce the chance of surgical site infections and improves compliance with manufacturer IFUs.
Match instances of surgical site infections to their suspect trays. Knowing which tray was used with which patient or operation enables managers to evaluate the sterilization process of the tray in question. This enables them to ensure that all facility policies and procedures were followed during reprocessing—and to hold accountable anyone who caused a break in that cycle.
Effectively using the information collected through SPD tracking systems allows all staff, from technicians to managers and directors, to ensure that their departments are running in an optimized way that guarantees compliance with facility policies and a safe environment for patients to have surgery.
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If you like this post, check out these:
1 Society for Human Resource Management, see https://www.shrm.org/about-shrm/press-room/press-releases/pages/human-capital-benchmarking-report.aspx
2 Latest data from Zip Recruiter, see https://www.ziprecruiter.com/Salaries/Sterile-Processing-Technician-Salary
3 Mhlaba et al, “Surgical instrumentation: the true cost of instrument trays and a potential strategy for optimization”, Journal of Hospital Administration 4, no. 6 (September 2015) pg 82
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