Apr 7, 2022

How to Solve Your Loaner Tray Management Woes

As technology advances and surgical procedures become more complex, so do surgical assets. Specialty procedures such as those relating to orthopedics and neurology often require expensive surgical instruments that may not be frequently used. For this reason, health care facilities may choose to secure certain instruments and trays on loan from a vendor rather than buying them outright.

Reusable surgical instruments can cost thousands of dollars, and hospitals may not have the funds to pay upfront. They may also lack a business case for purchasing them if they’ll spend most of their life in storage. Cost aside, loaner trays may be helpful if demand exceeds the number of on-hand surgical assets needed to perform a procedure.

While loaner instruments and trays can be an effective way to reduce operating costs, they still need to be carefully managed to ensure regulatory compliance. Sterile processing departments (SPDs) need to know that the loaner trays are all accounted for, are arriving on time and are returned to the vendor. The best way to tackle these challenges is by using loaner instrument tray tracking and management tools.

Here, we’ll take a deeper look at why loaner instrument tray management systems are so critical for patient care and how they improve the loaner process.

Consequences of poor loaner instrument tray management

Surgeries rely on sterile surgical instruments to achieve optimal outcomes. When these instruments aren’t managed well, it reduces the efficiency of sterile processing teams, throws cases off schedule and puts patient safety in jeopardy.

Surgery delays

Loaner instrument trays must be treated as if they’re contaminated when they arrive at the facility, no matter where they’re coming from. Sterile processing departments are required to properly sterilize the instruments before they’re used in a procedure.

For this reason, most facilities require vendors to deliver the instruments at least 48 hours in advance so they have enough time to go through the sterilization process. When instruments don’t arrive on time, or if they never arrive at all, it can cause dangerous delays for patients. If facilities don’t have a surefire way to track when an order is placed, confirmed, delivered and picked up, they may have no visibility into where a loaner tray ended up.

Patient safety risks

Aside from potential delays, patient outcomes can suffer because of instruments arriving too close to the procedure time. Without advance notice of which instruments are on their way, SPD teams can’t ensure they have the exact sterilization equipment needed for each instrument or instructions on how to assemble them. This can lead to improper decontamination methods or mistakes that could leave deadly microorganisms, viruses or debris on an instrument when it’s delivered to the operating room.

Overwhelmed SPD staff

If a SPD manager isn’t aware of a large batch of loaner trays being delivered, they won’t have the chance to proactively prepare by arranging adequate staffing. Staff may be bombarded with instruments and have challenges prioritizing sets.

Unnecessary work

Vendors may deliver more surgical instrument trays than are needed “just in case.” This means that more instruments are being sterilized than will actually be used, and they are often prioritized over facility-owned surgical trays.

Missing loaner instruments

Without proper surgical tray tracking and management, loaner instruments may go missing, and SPD teams may not know if it’s because they never returned from the OR, are still in the sterilization loop or were never delivered.


Overwhelming staff with rush sterilization jobs increases the likelihood of mistakes. If incorrect sterilization methods are used for certain loaner instruments or if steps were missed, it could have a detrimental effect on patient outcomes.

Benefits of loaner tray management systems

Loaner instrument tray management systems can solve all these problems and more. These tools are designed to combat common challenges with loaner tray tracking and improve efficiency within both the SPD and the OR.

Visibility and control

Loaner tray management systems allow sterile processing technicians, OR staff and vendors to see where a tray is in the order process or perioperative cycle. This allows OR staff to see its exact location in the sterilization process to confirm it will be delivered on time for a procedure.

Improved communication

Because all parties have visibility into the entire process, it’s easy for them to remain on the same page about a loaner tray’s whereabouts. SPD teams can also ask vendors for assembly and sterile processing instructions for each instrument directly through the system.

Vendor accountability

Some loaner instrument tray management systems allow users to rate vendors within the system. Facilities can see a vendor’s ratings from other hospitals and immediately know where a vendor stands in relation to its own requirements. This helps hold vendors accountable for their orders and on-time delivery.

Automated notifications

Loaner tray management tools can send automated notifications to the vendor when an order is placed and to the facility when it’s confirmed and delivered. These systems can also tell SPD teams if an order may be delayed, allowing them to plan accordingly.

Proactive decision making

When SPD managers have visibility into incoming instrument loaner trays, it allows them to plan ahead. SPD teams can ensure they have adequate staffing to handle the workload, prioritize instruments based on the OR schedule and ensure they have the appropriate equipment to sterilize complex or uncommon instruments.

How to make the most of your loaner tray management system

While loaner tray tracking systems have invaluable benefits on their own, they work best when paired with surgical instrument tracking software and OR scheduling systems. When these services are linked, it gives sterile processing and OR teams peace of mind knowing they can:

  • See exactly where an instrument tray is located.
  • Track the instrument tray back to the case on which it was used.
  • Properly prioritize trays based on case schedules.
  • Access real-time reporting.
  • Ensure accuracy in the sterilization process.

Censis offers all these tools as well as clinical services to help with data integration, implementation, training and more. With a sole focus on surgical asset management technology and a team of people who have worked in sterile processing and OR roles, Censis develops systems to meet the specific needs of these teams.

Learn more about loaner tray management with LoanerLink or instrument tracking with CensiTrac.