Mar 6, 2024 | Sterile Processing

Sterile Processing in the Modern Era: From Manual to Electronic Instrument Tracking

Paper Tracking Shortcomings


Debbie used a pink pen on all her sterilizer load documenting, and Chris might as well be a doctor, his handwriting was so terrible. The pages that Debbie wrote on must be completely redone in black or blue ink, and you need to wait for Chris to come in this afternoon for his shift to interpret what he wrote, so that THOSE logs can also be redone.

It’s the end of the month, and that means it’s time to check your instrument tracking paper logs for discrepancies, missing information, and mistakes before you file them away. You have steam and hydrogen peroxide sterilizers, high-level disinfection machines, and automated endoscope reprocessors. Multiplying all those machines by 30 days of the month leaves you hours, if not days, of monotonous paper shuffling when frankly, you have a million other important tasks that need your attention.

As you gather the paper logs, you notice that the binder for the second steam sterilizer isn’t where it should be. 20 minutes later you find it in the locker room of all places, on the floor under a chair. Now you need to clean off the binder before putting it back where it belongs.

Tracking instrument reprocessing with paper is the way we’ve done it for decades. If you need to reference information, you can just go get the stack of logs that you have filed away. They’re in a warehouse somewhere stuffed in a cabinet that you can’t quite close all the way, filled with at least 3 years’ worth of documentation.

We have ALL been there. So, how do we do better for ourselves and our teams?


Electronic Tracking Systems

Paper tracking in the world of sterile processing is quickly becoming equal to using a phone book to call a business—almost no one does it anymore and those who admit to doing it know that there’s an easier and more efficient way. We all know by now that electronic instrument tracking systems are the technology of the future, but what benefits do they provide sterile processing departments?

Wouldn’t it be easier if you could go onto your computer and pull up the records you need in less than 5 minutes instead of searching for hours or days? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to not have to keep several filing cabinets full of dusty, faded documents? Instead, you could use that space for team-building yoga, or a small garden, or a hot tub! Anything but files upon files of paperwork.

Microorganisms are evolving and accurate record-keeping is essential to determining whether cross contamination has occurred, and if our patients are safe. When Infection Prevention calls to say that they’re doing a root cause analysis on a patient from 4 months ago, would you rather be able to pull a sterilization report from that specific day from an electronic database or frantically dig through papers?

The light on the horizon to all your instrument tracking paper-centric problems is an electronic instrument tracking system like CensiTrac, provided by Censis Technologies. The benefits of such a system counter every argument pro-paper people can think of:

  • No more chicken scratch writing or multiple ink colors—everything in black ink, typed in a standard (and readable) format.
  • Losing paper logs doesn’t happen when everything is stored on a digital server, accessible at your fingertips in minutes.
  • Your facility requires that you keep documentation for at least 3 years? Electronic tracking systems like CensiTrac keep them for 10 years at minimum.
  • All trays and instruments are consistently named (no individual slang terms) and the writing is legible because it’s typed up on the computer and printed on a standardized label.
  • Electronic logs can’t be ripped, smudged, soaked, or accidentally put in the shredder.
  • No more wondering if someone else documented all the items they put in the sterilizer or if they just guessed at how many peel packs were on that load.
  • What is this one weird instrument called again? Just scan the instrument-specific 2D code and print the label that tells what it is and where it goes.


Make That System Work for You!

You’re trying to hire more sterile processing technicians to keep up with the workflow from the Operating Room and clinics. Your C-suite wants to see department productivity, to determine if you REALLY need those FTEs (and we all know you do). With a paper tracking system, you’re swimming through 12 months of files, multiple folders for each day of those months, multiple folders for all your machines, counting each individual instrument, plus keeping a list of how many instruments are in each set because those are important too… At what point do you want to wave the flag of surrender?

Electronic instrument tracking technology can pull up productivity reports while you’re still on the phone with your manager. You can tell them exactly how many instruments, trays, flexible endoscopes, and loaners were processed in whatever timeframe they desire. You can email them the report right away. With an electronic tracking system, you are armed with the resources to support your team and grow your department.


Benefits for Your Patients

Even though the thought will probably never cross a patient’s mind, instrument-level tracking is a huge benefit for them. Cases can be delayed or cancelled if instruments can’t be found. If the patient ends up with an infection, a root-cause analysis can be performed to determine the cause of infection and the best treatment.

There are thousands of surgical instruments, each with their own unique Instructions for Use (IFU). If the sterile processing professionals can’t properly clean, disinfect, and/or sterilize the instruments, the patient is at risk for an unsafe procedure. Electronic instrument tracking systems can either link to the IFU or have the IFU uploaded directly to the instrument set.

Quality event monitoring ensures that sterile products from your department consistently reach patients in a high-quality state. Without this auditing process, your team, customers, and leaders won’t be confident in the state of your work. While quality auditing can be done with paper documentation, there are several reasons why having an electronic version is the best option.


What Can You Do?

Today’s world moves quickly, and hospitals are pushing boundaries to keep up every day. Sterile processing departments need to be able to focus on quality products for patients instead of interpreting bad handwriting or hunting down the paperwork to figure out what instruments were hopefully sterilized. Making the shift from paper tracking to electronic tracking might seem light a daunting task, but the result is that you have a tool to support every step that your team takes of the reprocessing journey.


Are you ready to step up to that light on the horizon? Reach out to Censis today.