Ensure personal protective equipment is suitable for sterile processing

The successful combination of products and the adoption and application of science-based practices will help the sterile processing profession meet the challenges of protecting frontline technicians.

Creating change within the sterile processing (SP) profession begins with asking the right questions to better understand where process improvements can best be made to benefit SP professionals, their clients, and patients at the hospital. receiving end of the SP department. (SPD) instrumentation and services.

Having served in the SP profession in various roles for many years (from front line technician to educator and finally leader), I have seen, felt and experienced what it is like to work in all areas of the department. . With regard to the challenging environment of decontamination, in particular, and the knowledge and skills needed to ensure that all employees wear personal protective equipment (PPE) in an effective, safe and consistent manner, I have made a few observations over the years that correctly putting on (putting on) and taking off (taking off) all of these layers of PPE can sometimes collide with other departmental needs and challenges, such as time and work restrictions. space and the ongoing and ever-changing need for supplies, equipment, personnel and education.

The decontamination area is the first step in the detailed process of providing clean, functional, disinfected and sterile medical devices for patient use. At the same time, this area presents the greatest risk to the technician due to potential exposure to bloodborne pathogens and other microorganisms. Additionally, there is a risk of physical injury if the PS professionals in the decontamination area are poorly or insufficiently trained and equipped to deal with these challenges. Leaders must ensure that all SPD personnel not only receive the appropriate PPE, but are also well trained on how to use it safely, consistently and effectively.

Data from a recent study published in the December 2, 2021 issue of American Journal of Infection Control (AJIC)“Droplet Dispersal in Decontamination Areas of Instrument Reprocessing Suites” – highlighted how medical device processing professionals can be exposed to patient tissue, blood and fluids despite using PPE. These revealing results suggest the need for more research to support evidence-based guidelines and instructions for safe treatment, and also serve as a stark reminder that HP professionals need access to equipment, appropriate training and support to ensure they remain as safe as possible in the workplace. As this study demonstrates, the historical experience of “doing things the way we have always done them” is not enough. We must look beyond hard data and always think of ways to improve in the name of quality and safety.

Moving the discussion forward

Many of us who have worked in the field of decontamination can attest to the challenges of this environment as well as the real and perceived risks associated with the decontamination of instruments and devices used in patient care. This AJIC The study elevates the discussion significantly because it provided strong scientific findings to support the discussions and concerns of members of the MS profession. Equally important, this first real-world study that evaluated the effectiveness of PPE involved collaboration between frontline MS technicians, members of the Healthcare Sterile Processing Association (HSPA), and the scientific research community.

HSPA, the professional association that provides certification, education, advocacy and support to MS professionals worldwide, certainly takes note of these study results and is working to remind its 40,000 members and certification holders (as well as others within the general MS community) of the critical importance of process improvement and appropriate PPE supplies, support, and ongoing training (the HSPA was formerly known as IAHCSMM – the International Association for Central Healthcare Services Materiel Management).

Study co-author and HSPA member Marie Brewer, CST, CRCST, CIS, CHL, CER, GTS, CSSGB, SP, manager at UnityPoint Health, St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, says Infection Control Today® that “the collaboration with Cori Ofstead and his associates has made it possible to explore and scientifically document the risks of aerosolization in a real decontamination environment. This research is important because the data clearly demonstrated the need to redesign PPE and improve decontamination protocols to reduce the risk of technician exposure to blood-borne pathogens.

This study and the significance of its findings are already changing the dynamics of the conversation regarding the risks facing HP professionals in reprocessing areas. These important discussions open up a deeper dialogue about what we know (and don’t know) and why we can’t rest on our laurels when it comes to employee safety, knowledge development and disaster mitigation. risks. At HSPA, these study results and conversations strengthen our resolve to ensure that our education and training is aligned with new scientific knowledge.

This scientific knowledge will enable industry to develop new technologies, solve problems in practical ways, and help frontline MS professionals make better, more informed decisions. It is the successful combination of products and the adoption and application of science-based practices that will help this industry meet these challenges and protect our frontline technicians. I am thrilled to know that we are at the forefront of essential scientific discovery, where data and new insights will contribute to new, game-changing applications and training for the future of our profession.

What to do now

To better understand why strong research and collaboration is so essential to the future of our profession, we MS professionals must first understand our role in the science of what we do every day. We must understand that we are participating in science; our participation gives us a sense of belonging to the profession we have chosen, an ability to belong to something bigger than ourselves. We are participating in the future and that future is happening now. It’s not about what we know (or think we know), but how we think and apply our powerful knowledge.

Science is about asking questions for the purpose of objectively discovering what is true. The vital research between Ofstead and Associates and HSPA members like Marie Brewer (and many others who have opened their doors for critical study) is helping bring together the essentials now so that we as a profession can expand our knowledge and meet the next challenges with science. – and data-driven insight, discipline, diligence and vigilance.

Communication about what SP professionals do on a daily basis and the reasons behind it is paramount to ensuring the highest level of safety and quality of service. Awareness what we want to measure is the first part; To do what we have to do comes next. We want all SP Technicians to be empowered to see and participate in change and maintain a thirst for learning and growth for themselves, the team, customers and patients. This thirst for knowledge and truth, even for difficult truths, is what will help to capture more attention for the discipline, to conduct more study, research and education, and to ensure that all professionals in the PS receive appropriate training (and will provide feedback demonstrations of training received) to ensure that PPE and other essential supplies, equipment and devices are used safely and optimally.

This AJIC The study showed critical gaps in PPE and practices currently in use while highlighting the risks and challenges that MS techs face in decontamination areas in particular. While there is still work to be done to instill process and equipment improvements, it is essential that HP professionals know the important role they can play now to make positive changes that will help them ensure their safety, as well as that of their colleagues and peers, in the workplace. The information provided in the AJIC the study allows all of us to proactively reflect on our own practices and processes. In the near future, we will surely have more information and recommendations, but in the meantime, I encourage all SP professionals, especially those in leadership positions, to read the AJIC investigate, ask questions within the service and be part of the educational process regarding the proper use of PPE.

I believe it is the duty of every leader to provide quality education in a consistent and meaningful way that resonates with employees. If we can help communicate and show the science and value of our profession, then that is what we must do for the greater good. Proactive planning, practice, and open dialogue among all stakeholders will advance our profession and improve safety and outcomes for our MS technicians, healthcare customers, and patients.

Damien Berg, BA, BS, CRCST, AAMIF, is vice president of strategic affairs for the Healthcare Sterile Processing Association (formerly IAHCSMM).

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