Measuring Productivity: Using Actionable Data to Overcome Challenges in SPD
Being able to accurately and objectively measure productivity can go a long way in providing high-quality care and improving patient outcomes. But ask any hospital administrator how they measure different departments’ productivity at their facilities and you could get any one of a thousand different answers.
Many healthcare facilities have begun measuring minutes of service in the operating room (OR), tracking the total minutes of care a patient receives and the total staff that facilitated that care. Brian Dawson, System VP of Perioperative Services at CommonSpirit Health, believes that this is how the best hospitals measure productivity in their ORs. It gives teams a way to adequately measure productivity and plan staffing and revenue more accurately.
But, Dawson said, for all its strengths in tracking productivity for ORs, minutes of service isn’t an adequate way to measure productivity in sterile processing. SPD teams are working on different tasks with different levels of complexity.
So how can SPDs ensure they are maintaining quality while addressing department productivity?
Similar to most modern enterprises, the answer actually lies in having accurate and reliable data in place so healthcare facilities can ensure SPDs (the backbone of the OR, according to Dawson) can operate effectively and efficiently.
Using the Right Productivity Data to Overcome Issues for SPDs
Seamus Johnson is the Senior Director of Application Development at Censis Technologies. He’s spoken with leaders in sterile processing all around the country and hears similar themes in the challenges each department is facing.
“They’re getting squeezed every day, and it’s getting harder to find qualified technicians who want to work in sterile processing,” Johnson said. “They’re being forced to do more with less, and that is really, really difficult.”
Dawson agreed. He said many challenges his SPD teams face revolve around finding qualified candidates, retaining employees, and ensuring administrators have enough visibility into the impact SPD has on revenue to get the support they need to work effectively.
While there is no silver bullet to solving all of these problems, some can be addressed with better visibility into the data. Let’s take a deeper look at some of the trends we’ve heard about that are predominant issues for SPDs and how easy access to actionable data can help.
Staffing nearly every position in healthcare is difficult, but sterile processing departments are facing particular challenges. One of them, Dawson says, is that there aren’t many established schools or programs specifically designed to train SPD professionals. As the job becomes more and more complex, hiring unskilled workers can drain resources and time if they need to be brought up to speed. It has an impact on department productivity.
When SPDs are short-staffed, it limits how many patients the healthcare facility can treat, increases overtime for sterile processing technicians, and ultimately leads to burnout. Gleaning the right data will be critical to solving this problem.
One way Dawson and his teams at CommonSpirit are using data to better support their staffing needs is tracking when they need staff on hand.
He said the data would tell him what time of day the majority of the work occurs. “When are we the slowest? Am I able to meet the workload with the staff I have, or do I need to hire one or two more people? Then I’m basing that off of data, not conjecture…to make intelligent business decisions.”
For example, they may not need to staff SPD technicians as heavily in the mornings because ORs haven’t hit full capacity yet and they aren’t processing as much equipment.
Using a productivity platform can help sterile processing departments understand where they are right now and how they’re doing with the resources they currently have in place today. Since you don’t have time to walk around and physically watch what everyone in the department is doing all day (not with these shortages in your staff), you need to have data that can do it for you. Using your data, you can see how you’re trending with staffing, where processes are working efficiently, and where bottlenecks are occurring.
Then you can start asking questions like, “Am I utilizing my resources to maximum efficiency?”
Until you get into the data and really understand what is happening, a lot of times, it’s just guesswork.
With the right data in hand for when peak times occur in the OR and when that hits sterile processing departments, throughput, and the complexity of equipment that needs cleaning, healthcare facilities can better manage the schedules of the staff they do have to best meet critical needs.
It’s no secret that one of the biggest challenges facing sterile processing departments is adequate compensation. Despite the critical need for well-trained staff to ensure positive patient outcomes, many SPD technicians are paid as unskilled workers.
For a department that is supporting the revenue-generating OR procedures, this disparity can lead to burnout. The problem, Dawson says, is that most healthcare executives don’t know what SPDs do. But data can help overcome that problem.
“If I can measure workloads in a more scientific way,” Dawson says, he can help generate visibility into the critical roles sterile processing technicians play in generating revenue for healthcare facilities.
Johnson agrees, and he outlines how having a more complete picture of the daily tasks in SPD and having a simple way to visualize and analyze that data can help provide greater visibility into SPD productivity.
“At the high level, what’s really important is being able to see everything that your department’s doing, being able to see what your throughput is in terms of how many trays you’re able to process for the OR. Those numbers are really your capacity to support the cases and support patients. At the top level, that’s what SPD leaders and hospital executives are looking for: what is my capacity? my capacity per technician? and what’s my throughput?” he said.
Once you start tracking and analyzing this data, you can create a solid argument on how to get the right resources to staff and retain employees in sterile processing. Then you have the data to show what resources the sterile processing department will need to meet its strategic objectives, and how that can impact revenue.
Dawson said for a large hospital network, like CommonSpirit’s, coordination across all facilities is critical. Each team needs to ensure it’s meeting national requirements for sterilization processes, no matter if they are working at a large facility or a small rural one.
But even in a single facility, coordination between SPD and other departments is critical. As more teams have begun tracking productivity in sterile processing, Johnson said a common theme is emerging.
“Healthcare facilities have put more and more on sterile processing, and because there’s no visibility to that, they become a sponge for all of this extra work. It ends up really sapping throughput in the OR and holding the organization back,” he said. “And ultimately, it leads to things like burnout as you work people more and more. It can also lead to a reduced standard of care for patients as technicians rush to try and keep up or cut corners from time to time to try and get things to the OR on time. It really has a negative effect overall on the organization.”
SPD teams are under enormous pressure to perform at a high level every day, with very little margin for error. Every tool needs to be properly sterilized.
“When you process sets all day, 10,000 instruments, and there’s no contamination on them? That’s success. That’s like winning the Super Bowl every day,” Dawson said. “You can’t have an off day in SPD, and that’s why it’s so important.”
But how do you measure Super Bowl-level performance in SPD? You can’t just measure the throughput, because some tools can be cleaned more easily than others. You also need to account for complexity of individual tasks, and time spent coordinating with other departments.
Dawson and his team are working on a way to gauge the complexity of individual SPD tasks. Then as each task is completed, it’s graded on its level of complexity. This will allow Dawson to not only measure throughput but accurately forecast staffing and productivity based on what equipment needs to be processed.
Dawson sees a future where his team can create a hub and spoke model for their SPD departments, sharing staff and equipment across geographically connected healthcare facilities. Using a centralized approach to SPD could help healthcare facilities consolidate staffing and equipment to reduce expenses and better manage employee resources. Then he might be able to use those savings to increase compensation for SPD teams and better manage retention.
Not all of these visions for the future of SPD may play out, but having the right data in place to track and measure productivity is the first step in helping hospital administrators both see the value of the SPD and use that data to make more impactful business and care decisions.
Enhance Department Productivity With Productivity Tools
Let’s circle back to the questions we asked at the beginning: How can you help your sterile processing team do more with less? How do you know how many technicians you need in your sterile processing department?
“No one has enough resources,” Johnson said, but having the right data in place will help justify requests for more. When your team knows how many tasks, the complexity, timing, and where teams are at with training and experience, SPD leaders can use all of the information to plan and justify the resources they need in their department.
But teams need to be conscious that managing productivity with data goes beyond having more data available. Their data needs to be intuitive and easily visualized so SPD leaders can get the right information right when they need it.
Dawson says it’s not just about collecting data. “Having a tool that collects data wisely is the way to do that.”
This isn’t just more reporting or dashboards; it’s automatically surfacing actionable insights that tell SPD teams how and when they can maximize their productivity. With the right data in place, SPD leaders can dive into the how and whys of their departments. They can find areas where they can make quick improvements and areas where they need to think creatively about how to overcome challenges.
Pre-built tools focused on productivity data already exist to quickly visualize the data you’re already tracking, so facilities of all sizes can leverage the right data. A productivity platform can help your team better manage processes and give visibility into all aspects of sterile processing department operations.
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