10 Reasons Why Sterile Processing is Important

Consistently improving processes remains a priority in professional settings. In the healthcare sterile processing department, it can mean the difference between patients recovering fully or developing infections. Numerous systems, products, services, and technology allow Central Service/Sterile Processing & Distribution (CS/SPD) departments to clean, disinfect, sterilize, and prepare surgical devices and instruments.

What is Sterile Processing?

Sterile processing refers to cleaning and sterilizing medical and surgical equipment before reuse. It is one of the most critical factors in preventing the spread of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), which is why sterile processing is important. Without proper sterile processing, patients, employees, and anybody who comes into touch with recently used medical tools would be in danger of catching an infection.

Sterile processing technicians help keep medical supplies clean by sterilizing, cleaning, processing, assembling, storing, and distributing them.
Sterile processing begins when non-disposable instruments used in medical or surgical operations are transferred to a designated decontamination room and cleaned in various methods to prepare them for reuse.

When instruments are first brought to the decontamination room, they may be dismantled and manually cleaned with an enzymatic solution or detergent before being ultrasonically cleaned, washed, and packaged for sterilization. After sterilization, tools must be free of pathogens and suitable for reuse.
Job growth is anticipated in physician offices and clinics, including outpatient care centers, ambulatory surgery centers, nursing homes, and assisted living institutions.

They play a role behind the scenes in a continuously changing, fast-paced atmosphere. Although technicians play a crucial role in avoiding infections, they have little direct patient contact. There is also a considerable danger of exposure.

Due to the nature of their job, they must avoid exposure to blood, body fluids, and strong cleaning chemicals when decontaminating instruments and equipment. Frequently, they must wear personal protection equipment (PPE), including gowns, gloves, and face masks.

Most institutions provide day, evening, and night shifts for technicians. Some weekend and holiday work may be required.

Sterile Processing Guidelines

Hospitals undertake sterile processing in various ways, but the CDC has established criteria to guarantee that basic requirements are fulfilled regardless of hospital equipment and personnel changes.

Physical facilities, cleaning, packing, loading, storage, and monitoring are the six essential phases of sterile processing that must be maintained at a high level. Before instruments are moved on to the next phase, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) specifies which cleaning products and equipment may be used for each phase, how to determine when sterilization has been successful, and what types of inspections must be conducted.

Technicians in sterile processing must diligently maintain these standards to ensure their safety and that neither patients nor medical personnel is exposed to harmful infections.

Listed below are the ten reasons why sterile processing is important:

  1. To keep surgical patients healthy, it is vital that the equipment used in each surgery be thoroughly cleaned and sterilized. Surgical procedures are generally associated with a significant risk of infection.

  2. To maintain patient safety, surgeons and sterile processing technicians must collaborate, and this process begins with adequate sterile processing.

  3. Departments of sterile processing are the backbone of hospitals and surgical facilities. With a well-trained and meticulous sterile processing technician, your facility's infection rates will significantly decrease.

  4. Human health is gravely threatened by hospital-acquired infections (HAIs). Incompetent sterile processing during and after surgery may be hazardous to a patient's health.

  5. In addition to cleaning equipment, sterile processing includes inventory management, procuring supplies, and monitoring the expiry dates of chemicals and other sterilants.

  6. Even changes to equipment, staff, and processes might impair an organization's capacity to reprocess instruments correctly. Sterile processing ensures that standard protocols are in place across the institution to protect patients and healthcare personnel.

  7. The cycle of sterile processing includes cleaning, disinfection, inspection, packing, sterilization, storage, and return transportation to the operating room or procedure area. At each level, it is crucial to comprehend the complexities of each step and the repercussions of missing or not completing a step.

  8. Patient safety is inextricably linked to sterile processing, and modern technology, such as sterile processing tracking systems, makes it simpler than ever to adhere to stringent compliance criteria. For the benefit of patients, these developments open the path for fewer infections and surgical mistakes.

  9. Each month, more than 15,000 trays of equipment pass through a sterile processing section. Each tray may include fifty pieces of equipment for a single surgical operation. This equates to around 750,000 instruments every month, and each tray and instrument must be free of infectious illness to safeguard the public and medical personnel.

  10. Hospitals depend on the effectiveness of sterile processing. For physicians and surgeons to have sufficient instruments, sterile processing facilities must adequately clean and rapidly process medical equipment. The process must strike a balance between thoroughness and speed without sacrificing either quality.

Sterile processing starts with an instrument tray. Surgical instrument trays include all the necessary instruments for a particular operation. It is simpler to transfer these instruments securely to and from the operation room, to keep them organized, and to store them when they are not in use if they are bundled.

Sterile processing occurs in a centralized sterile processing department (SPD). Before establishing these departments in the 1940s, each hospital department was responsible for sterilizing its equipment, making it impossible to develop consistent methods and risking patient safety.

Now that sterile processing departments exist, the sterilization of all devices may be monitored from beginning to end to ensure compliance with institutional and regulatory requirements.

When an instrument tray is returned to the sterile processing department of a health system after a surgical operation, each instrument must be processed for sterilization by particular requirements before being stored for future use or reuse. The actual sterilization procedure may vary significantly across instruments, dependent on the materials they are composed of or the manufacturer's instructions. Still, the sterile processing cycle consists of four key processes with quality assurance checks at each step:

Decontamination - as soon as an instrument tray enters the sterile processing area, the instruments are cleaned. This may be done manually by sterile processing technicians or mechanically using cleaners and washers that employ a range of cleaning, rinsing, and lubricating chemicals.

Assembly and packaging - after the instruments have been successfully decontaminated, they are examined and assembled into sets or peel-packaged. They utilize the right containment mechanisms for the instruments to maintain their sterility until they are ready for reuse.

Sterilization - sterilization is the process of eliminating bacteria and viruses from medical devices. This is accomplished by exposing bacteria and viruses to sterile environments or chemicals. Low-temperature and steam technologies are two prominent types of sterilization used by sterile processing departments.

Storage and distribution - when sterilization is confirmed, the tool container and peel packs are put in a sterile storage location with a controlled atmosphere for future surgical operations.

Martinson College was established to be a vital element of the industry's ongoing struggle to improve the standards of Central Services and Sterile Processing Departments (CS/SPD) in healthcare institutions across the globe, particularly in the United States. Our objective is to educate the community about the necessity of reusable medical device sterilization, decontamination, and reprocessing.

Read More: Career Options for a Central Supply Technician