If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us is that patients demand cleanliness during their elective surgeries and routine exams. The Sterile Processing Department (SPD) is where surgical instruments are sterilized and cleaned to control infection and it’s estimated that about one in eight hospitals outsources some part of their sterile processing operations either to a third-party vendor or they operate it as an off-site, stand-alone facility. With more surgical procedures taking place per day and an increase in instruments and tray volume, this solution can help keep costs down and free up some space.

When deciding whether to keep the SPD in-house or to outsource it, a hospital, surgical center, clinic, or ambulatory center should first come up with an analysis of costs related to sterilization equipment, supplies, and surgical instruments. They should look at both capital and operating expenses, with labor likely representing the largest single operating expense. A detailed review of existing case volumes is critical to understanding current and future needs. For example, if an orthopedic department intends to increase case volumes to 30%, the facility will need to modify its tray-per-case average to reflect this future state. A close relationship between the SPD and the Operating Room (OR) is key to continuous improvement. Both departments can work together to greatly improve the patient experience and reduce the chance of infection. Typically, a reusable surgical instrument that comes from the OR is manually cleaned, then placed in a large ultrasonic cleaner or sonic irrigator before being placed in a washer/disinfector. Next, the instrument is prepared for sterilization and then sterilized through one of many types of sterilization processes. Once sterilized, the instrument is either sent back to a procedure room to be used again, or into sterile storage until it is needed again for a procedure. Outsourcing this process may help hospitals and surgical centers reduce daily tray backlogs and case delays.

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An interesting white paper published in 2020 by Josh Heacock at IMEG Corp offers a guide to having on-site or off-site facilities. He writes: “Upgrading to higher-capacity process equipment may be sufficient for modernization if an increase in tray volume is the main issue facing a facility. However, in most instances new equipment requires significant building infrastructure modifications and increased footprint.”