It is inevitable that there will come a time when each of us is a patient at the mercy of doctors, staff, and the protocols that they — not we — adhere to. As sterile processing department (SPD) professionals, we should step back from these experiences and reflect on what worked and what didn’t, how we felt as a patient during the entire treatment experience, and how we might take those lessons and apply them to our everyday interactions with our own patients and our colleagues at our facilities.
Sterile Processing professionals (SPs) have long been at the frontlines of protecting patients from cross-contamination from used operating instruments and other hospital equipment, but their intimate knowledge of virus transmissions risks, decontamination techniques, and processing protocol has never been as critical as it is during the age of coronavirus. And though SPs already adhere to an array of strict guidelines like the CDC’s Cleaning and Sterilization guidelines, regulatory standards from federal and state agencies, and their own facility’s protocol when cleaning, reassembling, and sterilizing operating instruments prior to the next procedure, there’s no time like a pandemic to review, refresh, and even strengthen sterile processing protocol to protect patients, doctors, and other hospital professionals.
As surgical procedures, instruments and devices continue to advance, Central Sterile/Sterile Processing Department (CS/SPD) processes and equipment must evolve as well. Yesterday’s decontamination, cleaning and sterilization practices simply can’t accommodate the complexity and volume of today’s surgical and medical services.
You have followed all of your hospital’s procedures, donned and doffed PPE at the right times and the right places, washed your hands vigorously, and managed the unrelenting tsunami of patients needing care. You have armed yourself with the most up-to-date information from reputable sources, supported dedicated first responders, and adhered to manufacturers’recommendations to mitigate shortages of indispensable PPE.
Imagine walking through the door of a hospital’s sterile processing department (SPD) to find original AMSCO steam steriliz-ers and ultrasonic machines, 1956 GOMCO suction machines with the reusable bottles, and a “central supply” setup where the operating team washes contaminated instruments in the OR and the central supply staff puts them in the “oven.” The sterile processing department’s library is full of books and manuals from 1956, and its technique manual from the American Sterilizer Company is the 1969 edition.