While it’s often doctors and nurses who dominate the healthcare spotlight, sterile processors work quietly behind the scenes to ensure that patients are kept safe and that medical procedures are effective.
Sterile processors create the cornerstone of safe healthcare by following extensive, complex steps to clean, sterilize and maintain the life-saving tools and devices used daily. It’s only fitting, then, that they be honored during Sterile Processing Week, celebrated this year Oct. 8-14.
Formerly known as International Central Service Week, the celebration is promoted by the Healthcare Sterile Processing Association (HSPA).
The Essential Role of Sterile Processing
A variety of challenges need to be overcome to ensure smooth sterile processing workflows, according to experts.
Arthur Trapotsis, a sterile processing consultant, identifies nine challenges facing the industry, among them staffing, outdated or inadequate equipment, insufficient space or storage, and difficulty meeting regulatory standards. Otherwise, sterilization teams "are asked to do more with less," he writes.
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In Search of Sterile Processing Champions
A fundamental task moving forward is educating hospital C-suites on the role of sterile processing — what it is, why it’s important and why they need to invest in it. That's according to Kara Nadeau, senior editor of Healthcare Purchasing News.
“It’s still a department that doesn’t have the level of awareness that it deserves,” she said recently during a podcast on today's sterile processing landscape. "Sterile processing is so fundamental to patient safety, why wouldn’t people want to invest?”
Yet, departments are sometimes unsure if they enough support. An Infection Control Today interview offers a possible reason why: Sterile processing is a support department rather than a revenue-generating one.
Hospital leaders sometimes don’t fully grasp the importance of the department until it is too late, write Ashley Brooks and Jonathan Reimer, who educate and lead in the field.
Capital equipment, meanwhile, is essential to a smooth-running sterile processing department, but capital investments are sometimes constrained in hospitals, they add. This can also lead to productivity and process challenges.
In her podcast interview, Nadeau notes that disparities in sterile processing resources persist across the country. Nevertheless, one encouraging sign is that salaries are up about 3 percent across all areas of sterile processing. The average salary is about $69,000, she says.
Healthcare facilities that adopt single-use endoscopes eliminate reprocessing, repairs and concerns about cross-contamination, with devices that are sterile and brand new each time. Another benefit is they are able to reallocate those sterile processing resources to other devices and complex tasks.