Hospital sterile processing departments are a mystery to many, sometimes including the surgeons who rely so heavily on their services.

Lori Ferrer, who serves as the director of Systems Central Sterile Services Department at M Health Fairview in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has spent decades improving the efficiency of such departments through communication and tours.

In a recent Beyond Clean podcast, entitled “All Together Now: Sterile Processing Centralization,” Ferrerexplained how the multiple hospitals and facilities that make up Fairview’s centralized system save money and benefit from using the same standardized equipment sets and by sharing their large pieces of equipment.

Centralization in sterile processing is a practice that is gaining popularity because of its convenience and cost savings, and Ferrer is a pioneer in making it work smoothly.

“Centralizing all of the clinic instrumentation helps bring it to the experts that know how to handle the instrumentation instead of individuals that can make better use of their time if they’re being able to serve the patients,” Ferrer says.

Providing equipment for six hospitals, two ambulatory centers and 60 clinics and growing, takes close communication with the operating rooms involved, says Ferrer, who along with her organization recently won the Healthcare Purchasing News Department of the Year award.

Transitioning to that centralized system required many conversations among stakeholders and resulted in equipment sets being standardized, some broken apart and others eliminated completely. Some 500,000 instruments were removed from the sets, and with an estimated 51 cents per instrument for three-touch reprocessing, that alone, amounted to savings of a quarter of a million dollars.

“It starts with rounding and establishing those relationships with folks and earning people’s respect,” Ferrer said. “In sterile processing it’s always been them and us. We’ve been trying to bring things together. We’re all a team. … What one does affects the other.”

To truly understand how equipment is used can even require watching surgeries, Ferrer says.

In recent years, the role of sterile processors has grown more complex as the instruments themselves have gotten more intricate.

The challenges only compound when loaner equipment shows up in sterile processing departments, often on short notice and typically with few instructions, experts say. Again, communication can help prepare for the additional workload and can clarify instructions for processing.

Some reprocessors have found themselves with a new layer of job responsibilities that involve testing equipment after it is cleaned, experts noted at a round table convened more than five years ago by the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI).

Ferrer is not alone in emphasizing the essential nature of communication between sterile processors and their various teams. Tanya Lewis, CRCST, president of the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Material Management (IAHCSMM) says not only are good relationships with operating room personnel vital, but sterile processors and infection preventionists also must work together closely.

“I just think that infection preventionists and sterile processors should always work as a team,” said Lewis, who supervises sterile processing at Wellstar North Fulton Hospital in Roswell, Georgia, in a recent interview with Infection Control Today. “It should always be a team effort. It’s not them or us. It’s not sterile processing. It’s not infection prevention, but it’s us as a team. And that’s the way we’re going to keep our patients safe.”

Click here to hear Ferrer tell her story on Beyond Clean.

Click here to hear the Infection Control Today interview with Lewis.


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