Sep 10, 2023 | Article

Knowing Your Numbers: How to Become a Data-Driven SPD

  1. Leveraging your data to see the bigger picture in SPD management. 

2. Using an instrument tracking system to improve training and understand efficiency. 

3. Learn how to focus on top-priority issues with data. 


In the past, sterile processing departments (SPDs) at healthcare facilities lacked access to metrics and quality data, leaving them in the dark about their performance. However, times have changed, and now we can harness the power of new data insights to identify problem areas and enhance processes. 

With the right data in place, SPD leaders can create an efficient department focused on quality and managing the expectations of all their customers and stakeholders, especially the operating room (OR) teams. 

So how can SPD leaders manage the transformation of their department to one focused on data while supporting their teams in improving processes based on that data? Well, we’ve figured it out for you. 


Taking the 10,000-Foot View

Just as an airport needs a well-organized system to avoid chaos, so too do SPDs. They require data and technology to enhance quality and efficiency. By implementing metrics and data, sterilization pros can adopt an air traffic controller's point of view. They can improve workflows through evidence-based data and effectively measure and report on critical data points. 

With the ability to gather site-to-site data, even large organizations with geographically dispersed facilities can gain a comprehensive view of how each site functions. 

Data-driven insights provide SPD leaders with a more comprehensive view of the big picture, enabling them to communicate effectively with stakeholders. This is particularly helpful when managing different stakeholders such as CEOs at various facilities, ORs, and other departments. This allows SPDs to build proactive departments that can quickly respond to emerging needs and challenges. 

As air traffic controllers (not fire fighters, who rush to respond to each problem based on who is complaining the loudest), SPD techs can use the 10,000-foot view to get a holistic understanding of where the real problems are and begin brainstorming how to address them. This data-driven approach paves the way for a future where SPDs can excel in delivering top-notch services to their customers and partners. 


Improving Workflows With Evidence-Based Data

To make your data effective, you need to understand how to use it. Unfortunately, it’s not just about someone telling you exactly what data to measure and what results to expect. That can be effective in some organizations, but because SPDs have so many unique scenarios from facility to facility, it’s important to understand how you can identify where to use data to improve your unique workflows. 

Here are some ways to do that. 

Focus on customer needs 

One key to leveraging data effectively is to identify what is crucial to customers. 

For example, asking your customers what’s important to them can help you establish a baseline. Every SPD should be focused on eliminating bio-burden and not delaying OR cases. Continuing to ask your stakeholders what matters to them can help you uncover that they are frustrated with missing instruments or holes in trays. 

Once you have their needs identified, you can begin to solve problems. One facility found they had an unheard-of 15% defect rate at a hospital that had just opened. Digging into the data helped them understand the biggest problem was missing instruments. Armed with this data, SPDs can set aggressive goals, initiate tracking and measurements, and subsequently witness significant improvements in defect rates. The facility in this example now sees defect rates as low as 0.5% or less. 

Understanding customer needs is essential for utilizing data effectively. By engaging with doctors and nurses, who are often driven by evidence, SPDs can proceed with data-backed decision-making. Focusing on the most critical areas helps prioritize improvements in quality and efficiency while improving relationships with the OR. 

Compare site-to-site performance 

Comparing data across different sites allows for valuable insights. For instance, one site might appear to have a low tray production rate per tech, but further analysis could reveal that specific ORs require more instruments per tray than others. Such data-driven discoveries foster improved two-way communication with ORs and technicians, leading to increased efficiency and better relationships. 

Understand efficiency ratings 

Efficiency ratings based on data can help SPDs identify staffing needs accurately. It becomes evident where additional staff is required and where workload might be causing errors due to overburdened employees. Moreover, data can address high turnover rates by pinpointing the sources of mistakes and supporting timely training interventions before sterilization techs are burnt out or performing poorly. 

Improve training 

By leveraging data to identify the most common trays, trainers can coach new staff on how to handle them efficiently, promoting early wins and increasing overall efficiency. The data-driven approach can yield significant improvements in tray production and decrease defects. 


Using Data to Reduce Defect Rates

Defect rates are a key indicator for how well a sterile processing department is functioning. It can be a huge win for SPDs to be able to measure and report on those so they can use that data to improve. 

So, what are some ways you can measure defect rates for employees and facilities and then report on that data? 

  • Track distractions. These can be a big problem for facilities. Tracking where distractions are coming from, like answering phone calls, and the impact they have on quality can help SPDs identify how to improve processes.
  • Missing instruments. Knowing what is missing, why, and how often can help your department identify issues and solve for them.
  • Tracking tech performance. Quality improves as sterilization techs expand their repertoire from less complex trays to more complex trays. Understanding where techs are in their development and helping them expand their repertoire will ensure your defect rates go down.
  •  Compare site-to-site data. Knowing what the numbers are across facilities can help your team understand which facilities are seeing problems more than others. This will help you develop a targeted approach to solving those problems. Perhaps you can redistribute your workforce to better support facilities in need. Or you can focus on a “train the trainers” program to improve new hire productivity. 

Focusing on top-priority issues rather than every problem ensures targeted improvements. The results can be quite impactful. Embracing a data-driven culture allows SPDs to create new roles, becoming more efficient and powerful organizations. Furthermore, data plays a vital role in staff pay adjustments, demonstrating the value of each tech to the overall organization. 

Want to learn more? Talk with a Censis expert today about how you can use data to keep your sterilization department running smoothly. 


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