How CSSD Departments Drive Patient Safety by Reducing Risks Inherent to Instruments Reprocessing

What the Detroit Medical Center sterilization problems mean for instruments reprocessing and how CSSD can improve patient safety.


The proper sterilization and management of surgical instruments is critical to patient safety at any hospital. Automation can make surgical instrument tracking and the tracking of sterilization more accurate and efficient. Without it, a hospital can find itself putting patients in danger and risking a public relations disaster – which is exactly what happened at the Detroit Medical Center.

Reporters at The Detroit News uncovered rampant sterilization problems at the hospital’s five Midtown Detroit hospitals, including dirty, broken and missing instruments. The newspaper stories prompted an investigation by state and federal authorities.

According to recent coverage, cultural and communications issues delayed sterilization. To correct the problem, the hospital spent $1.6 million on new equipment, hired more sterilization staff, engaged a third-party sterilization service, and is conducting a massive inventory. In the meantime, the hospital has seen a reduction in the number of surgeries performed at its facilities.

These are precisely the types of problems and costs that an RFID-based surgical instrument tracking solution is designed to prevent. Instead of relying on internal staff to manually track and communicate which instruments are due for sterilization or maintenance, individual instruments can be flagged and automatically routed to those departments. If an unsterilized instrument makes its way back to the OR, a quick RFID read will alert staff to the problem before the item is reused.

The Detroit Medical Center is currently just three-fifths of the way through a surgical instrument inventory process that has already taken the better part of a year. For hospitals with RFID systems in place, such a process could be cut to a few days – and in some cases, even just hours.

This is true across categories of medical equipment. A study conducted by Ofstead & Associates, Inc., on endoscope reprocessing found that current techniques are not consistently effective. Automation, combined with better training and accountability, would ensure guideline adherence and patient safety.

How is your hospital dealing with surgical instruments reprocessing risks? Join the conversation, share your thoughts.

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