Oct 17, 2023 | Article

Work Smarter, Not Harder: Doing More With the Resources You Have

  1. Learn how SPDs can overcome limited resources to produce quality instrumentation.
  2. Discover how to implement small process changes that can have a larger impact on your SPD.
  3. Positive feedback improves staff morale and productivity.


The COVID-19 pandemic and the Great Resignation have impacted organizations across industries. Arguably, the healthcare industry was hit the hardest, with employees from across departments being laid off or furloughed in response to COVID-19 restrictions. Approximately 12% of healthcare workers were laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic while another 18% quit due to burnout, getting another opportunity, or switching fields entirely. Thirty-one percent considered quitting their jobs once the pandemic was in full swing.

Within sterile processing departments (SPDs) in particular, the effects of labor shortages have been difficult. With SPD technicians being called on to work more shifts and longer hours, burnout, decreased productivity, and low-quality reprocessed products have become common occurrences. As COVID-19 has been virtually eliminated and medical procedures are rescheduled, SPDs are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with limited resources.


Luckily, there are ways in which SPDs can accomplish more despite staff shortages. Industry experts Kelly Swails, Clinical Business Manager at Censis, and Seamus Johnson, Senior Software Developer at Censis, discussed ways in which SPDs can do more in the face of limited resources. Below are four ways SPDs can achieve this.


Inventory Optimization: Determine What’s Really Needed

Reprocessing unused instruments is a huge contributor to hospital waste. According to a study by Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, the average cost to reprocess an instrument (including maintenance, packaging, labor, and disinfection) costs between $0.51 and $0.77 per instrument. Multiply that by the number of instruments in complex sets, and that adds up quickly. Instruments that aren’t used but sent through reprocessing anyway can be a huge waste of money. 

To avoid wasting time and money, healthcare facilities must optimize inventory. Inventory optimization refers to having the right amount of inventory to meet demand despite having fewer resources. “It’s about having the right inventory at the right time for the right procedure without added expense,” Kelly said. 

She went on to discuss how inventory optimization starts with determining what instruments are actually needed for specific procedures. “Figure out which instruments are never used in certain procedures and back that up with data. See what other tools are used in their place or if there’s a particular reason as to why [they’re] not used. By decreasing the amount of instruments you’re disinfecting, sterilizing, storing, and assembling, you’re working smarter, not harder.”

All this starts with data. For example, examine unused trays from the last twelve months. What procedures are they utilized for? How often do those procedures occur? From here, determine whether you can break down these trays and utilize unused instruments in other ways, such as filling missing instrument gaps. Using an inventory tracking system like CensiTrac helps you capture that data and use it to make better, more informed decisions.

Use Count Sheets to Streamline Tray Assembly

Count sheets are an integral part of SPDs. The sheet tells technicians which instruments or items are needed for a surgery or procedure and how many should be in each tray. In the past, count sheets used to be called recipes. Recipes tell whoever is cooking exactly what should go into a bowl and how much, and the same is true with count sheets. It eliminates guesswork for technicians, ensuring they know exactly what should be in each tray for each procedure.  For leadership, count sheets help to minimize errors and mistakes, as well as improve tracking and productivity.

An electronic tracking system helps to standardize tray inventory and highlights which trays are used most often. With those insights, SPD managers or leadership can create more detailed count sheets which relieves administrative burden. Additionally, the data can help determine which trays should be optimized, helping departments focus time on resources on the most utilized trays/containers.

Implement a Tray Complexity Standard

One of the key challenges for SPDs is balancing quantity with quality. Techs can’t clean and assemble trays so slowly that they fall behind schedule, nor can they clean so fast that they make critical errors during reprocessing. To help find that balance, Kelly discussed creating and implementing a tray complexity standard. “Look at the time needed to sterilize each tray or instruments,” Kelly said. “From there, take the average and put it on the side of the tray. This encourages technicians to do their best to stick with that.”

Seamus discussed how data captured by healthcare software can help determine that average. “Data we’ve seen has shown that trays should be assembled at a pace of 12.5 seconds per instrument,” he said. He went on to describe how being transparent with average assembly times can encourage technicians to match that time. This can help to decrease sterilization and assembly times without sacrificing quality.

Kelly then described how data captured by electronic tracking systems can help facilities establish these complexity standards. “Start somewhere,” she said. “Figure out where complexities are and then go deeper.” 

Kelly gave the example of having a laparoscopic set with a few instruments which would give the impression of being simple. However, drilling deeper into the set may reveal that it has numerous parts that require longer assembly and sterilization times. This would make the tray more complex, which can help SPD managers appropriately allocate resources as well as set more realistic expectations.


Give Credit Where Credit Is Due

Numerous studies have shown that happy, engaged employees are more productive. An easy way to keep employees happy? Employee recognition. Seamus encourages SPD managers to get creative in how they recognize technicians. 


“Recognize the technicians who process the most amount of trays at the highest complexity level and recognize the technicians who process a large amount of bigger trays,” Seamus said. “Doing both discourages cherry picking—it ensures that technicians have a well-rounded skill set and can properly process multiple trays and containers.”


Kelly also stressed the importance of giving credit where credit is due. “Use that data,” she said. “Look at the bigger picture, think outside the box, give credit where credit is due. Continue to provide that education—all that keeps employees engaged, happy, and more productive.”


Do More With Less Using Censis

With only 7% of healthcare facilities fully staffed, it’s difficult for SPDs to get work done with limited staff. By implementing an electronic tracking system like CensiTrac, you can easily find ways to do more with less. In-depth insights help you make sense of chaotic processes, increase employee engagement and productivity, and maintain efficiency.

Discover how Censis’s AI-driven technology can maximize resources by contacting a representative.


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