Your process is only as strong as your weakest link. As the instruments used in surgery continue to increase in complexity, so too does the sterile processing equipment used to clean and sterilize those instruments.
Just as we rely on our equipment at home to do the job, so too must we be certain that the equipment in hospitals are performing as it should. For example, if your dishes come out of your dishwasher dirty after following the appropriate steps, it is obvious that there is a problem somewhere along the way. Do you use them as is or do you address the problem? After all, no one wants to eat off a dirty plate!
You are Part of the Process
Many folks in sterile processing may not be aware that routine maintenance is not necessarily part of a service contract. And the indicators that you rely on are just part of the story when it comes to detecting equipment performance issues. This week, let's look at how YOU can help maintain patient safety by making observations, understanding your department’s defined maintenance procedures, and, when necessary, reporting equipment failures or concerns so they can be addressed and resolved quickly.
Your observations can reveal clues whether or not equipment is functioning as intended. For example, are your spray arms spinning, are your instruments coming out wet, or are the walls of your washer discolored or showing scale build-up? If you notice a load of instruments from your ultrasonic machine is not clean, don’t adjust the cycle time; investigate the reason behind the issue. Does the wash water need to be changed? Are the transducers producing adequate cavitation in the water? Are you dispensing the correct amount of cleaning agent? Get to the root cause and address the issue. Most importantly, ensure that the cycle parameters have not been changed.
It helps to learn about the cycle parameters, i.e. time, temperature, dosing, cavitation, or impingement in use in your department, and how and when to check them. Ask for a copy of your quality process documentation. Understand what signs or symptoms may present themselves if the equipment you’re using needs maintenance.
Defined Maintenance Procedures
The release of ANSI/AAMI EQ89:2015 Guidance for the use of medical equipment maintenance strategies and procedures help align equipment maintenance practices across the healthcare industry. Your Healthcare Technology Management or Biomed department has an equipment maintenance policy and should be able to advise your team on their role in routine equipment maintenance and troubleshooting.
Consider inviting these in-house experts to your team meetings on a regular basis. You can expand your understanding of the equipment you use and the necessary parameters. Be alert for issues that might cause disruption to the productivity of the Sterile Processing Department, if not detected.
Reporting Failures or Concerns
Don’t wait. Bring any failures or concerns to the attention of your supervisor immediately. Some issues are early warnings that maintenance may be due, but others indicate that service is required immediately to prevent any adverse outcome.
Ensure that your facility’s procedures, processes, and equipment are under control. Observe any issue, perform routine maintenance, and report any issue promptly when you see them. After all, the safety of the patients is always our first priority.