Feb 7, 2024 | Leadership Article

An Open Conversation About Productivity and Efficiency in Sterile Processing

1.    Discuss challenges to measure productivity in sterile processing departments.
2.    Learn 5 ways SPDs can improve productivity and efficiency.
3.    How Censis products can assist SPDs in meeting productivity metrics.

Many sterile processing departments (SPDs) are being asked to increase productivity levels. Yet, when SPD managers or SPD techs hear the term productivity, a myriad of factors come to mind. “I think of how efficiently, quickly, and thoroughly I complete a task,” said Samantha Espenschied, a Sterile Processing Technician at Moab Healthcare. 

For Sara Vinson, Director of Sterile Processing at UF Health, productivity depends on the culture of the department. “It comes down to how leadership explains it and gives [us] the tools to be successful.” 

Justina Tanner, a Certified Sterilization Technician at Essentium St. Vincent Hospital considers the definition of productivity: “As a tech, how much effort are you giving to reaching your goals? What’s the overall quality? How are you measuring your overall output?”

Productivity takes on numerous meanings depending on the individual and their role. For leadership, it likely means finding new, strategic ways to increase overall efficiency or meet facility goals. For techs, it’s determining how to improve their individual working strategy to meet those goals.

The question remains, however: How does productivity really work in sterile processing? What strategies can SPDs utilize to improve workflows and efficiencies in their respective teams? Are there specific metrics SPDs should look to meet? Let’s dive in.


Challenges to Measuring Productivity in Sterile Processing Departments


Understanding how productivity works and breaking down productivity barriers starts with leadership. SPD managers or facility directors are responsible for determining how to improve productivity without sacrificing quality. At the same time, they have to ensure their departments are meeting facility KPIs and other metrics. Justina described some of the challenges leadership faces when trying to increase efficiency, including high surgical backlogs or underqualified technicians. Sara added that it can be difficult for leadership to understand where barriers to productivity lie and how to eliminate them. 

For technicians, there are a number of challenges to increasing productivity, such as poor work ethic, improper training, lack of direction from leadership, or poor workplace culture. “Individuals may view productivity as a negative thing—if they need to process a certain number of instruments per night, some people may learn how to cheat the system and pad their numbers,” Brandon Todd, Director of Sterile Processing at Northern Health Care, said. “People can learn how to fly under the radar, meet the bare minimum of productivity.”

All four experts agree: productivity does not look the same from facility to facility. Productivity ultimately comes down to individual departments’ average workload and specific goals.


5 Ways SPDs Can Improve Productivity and Efficiency


Invest in the Right Software
Increasing productivity and efficiency starts with identifying where processes and procedures can be improved. This can only be accomplished with the right productivity software. For example, CensisAI2 Productivity uses the data captured by CensiTrac and turns the information into actionable insights. Information such as where employees are spending most of their time, average processing, sterilization, or assembly times, and more. This enables you to uncover patterns, trends, and behaviors that are detracting from productivity and take steps to rectify them. 

Enhance Training and Education
Unproductive employees can create a ripple effect throughout the rest of the department. These unproductive technicians can lower team morale and, if not rectified, increase employee turnover rate. However, low productivity may not always be the individual’s fault. “Some employees may not have ever been shown how to properly do a process or they weren’t given the right tools to succeed,” Brandon said.
Improving training and providing more opportunities for ongoing skill development can help SPD techs who did not receive proper training better understand their role and how it contributes to patient safety. This in turn can increase productivity rates, boost team morale, and improve overall department performance. 

Clearly Communicate Department Goals 
Clearly communicating facility goals throughout your department is a key part of increasing employee productivity. Technicians who are unsure of how their performance contributes to facility growth are less likely to work hard. “Sometimes when you’re [working with] an employee, they may not understand how and why things are done a certain way,” Sara said. “That can lead to errors and decreased productivity in other processes.” She went on to say that giving employees something to work towards increases their motivation and overall productivity.

Balance Quality and Quantity
The ongoing debate of quality and quantity in SPD departments can actually hinder department productivity. Focusing too much on quantity (i.e., sterilizing and assembling trays to keep up with a high backlog) can actually create more work. On the other hand, focusing solely on quality can decrease the amount of procedures done and also lower productivity.

“You have to [balance] both,” Brandon said. “You have quality demands and they may expect perfection but you also have production demands. Every technician and leader has to find their place in that continuum to figure out how to be productive while maintaining good quality.” 

Improve at an Individual Level
It’s important to analyze productivity at both a departmental and individual level. Productivity tools play a critical role in this as the solutions enable you to delve deeper into data and identify where inefficiencies are occurring within the department. For those happening on an individual level, it’s important to work with the person directly. “We’re dealing with people,” Justine said. “There’s life outside of work and there could be something in their personal life that makes it harder for them to do their job.” She went on to stress the importance of talking directly to low-performing technicians and identify how to help. Some may need additional training or be motivated in a different way from the rest of the team. Regardless, improving productivity at an individual level may result in longer-lasting changes that positively affect the rest of the team.


How to Meet Common SPD Productivity Metrics With Censis


Despite the staffing shortages most SPDs are facing, facilities can still maintain high productivity, patient safety, and throughput. Focusing on the SPD productivity metrics below can help departments do more with less as well as meet facility goals:
•    Processing speed: Prioritize both tray speed and volume to help technicians prioritize tasks while on shift. This can also help you determine where staff members may need additional training or support to increase productivity.
•    Staff turnover: Productivity data can help you better plan department workload and capacity, and can help take into account varying technician output.
•    Bottlenecks: Bottlenecks exist in every sterile processing department. Using data, you can uncover productivity barriers such as instrument delivery or restocking inventory and take steps to resolve them.
•    Successes: Digging deeper into data can highlight where staff are exceeding facility KPIs or how well strategic initiatives are impacting performance. 

Measuring productivity throughout your facility is dependent on high-performing productivity tools. With CensisAI2 Productivity and CensiTrac, you can go beyond instrument tracking and delve deep into the performance of your department. Interactive data dashboards present data in a visual, easily digestible way, enabling you to identify bottlenecks, improve processing speed, reduce staff turnover, and capitalize on department successes. 

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Contact Censis today to learn how you can maximize department productivity and efficiency despite industry challenges.


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