Instructions for Use: The Sterilization Challenge

Hospital central sterile departments often have difficulty managing compliance with IFUs; RFID can help automate inventory and compliance processes.

In a recent article published entitled “Insufficient for Understanding: Are IFUs Failing Us or Are We Failing Them?” , writer Hank Balch outlines the gaps in understanding between front-line central sterile service department (CSSD) employees and the instructions for use (IFUs) provided for medical devices and surgical instruments that explain how to clean, sterilize and maintain each item. Following is an expert from the article, originally published by NewSplash/Ultra Clean Systems:

You cannot walk five feet in a sterile processing department without hearing the words “instructions for use” from a team member, certification manual, or accreditation surveyor. Abbreviated as IFU, these manufacturer instructions give insight and directions on everything from chemical soak times to cleaning brush diameters, from validated cycles to preventive maintenance schedules. With the emphasis on the importance of IFUs, there still remains a very real disconnect on the front lines of cleaning and sterilization for how these little instructional devils are to be tackled and tamed.

Let’s take a look at a couple of ways our current cultural and technological focus on IFUs is failing us, what you can do to cultivate a spirit of patient-centered compliance among your team, and how you can help stem the tide of instructional ignorance in our industry.

Please click here to read the full article. As Balch has pointed out in his article, the key problem is because so many departments now access their IFUs online, most employees don’t really know what they include. Staff may be able to access and follow those instructions, but once they’ve closed the browser the information doesn’t really stick with them. Because staff don’t have any retained knowledge about how to properly process equipment, sterilization teams have a harder time ensuring that the right processes are followed.

Ensuring the quality of a CS/SPD operation means that managers need to take the time to have staff fully review the IFUs while also conducting an inventory of every instrument being processed. This is an extraordinarily challenging and time consuming task, and will require resource commitments from the hospital. Balch recommends be proactive in asking administrators for those resources, while also incentivizing IFU compliance among team members.

So are there any technologies available that can help improve the situation? There are, in fact, ways to reduce the burden of conducting this inventory and reviewing the IFUs. RFID tags can provide a way to automatically provide a complete list of all medical devices and instruments in use. With that information in hand, CS/SPD departments could conceivably link the IFU information to each device, so that the instructions can be called up automatically as assets are scanned in and out of inventory for use and processing. Xerafy has already deployed similar systems at a number of hospitals around the globe, with great success.

This level of automation is critical to ensure sterilization compliance, as we previously discussed in our blog about the sterilization disaster at the Detroit Medical Center. Not following those IFUs can put patient safety at risk. Automation, training, and improved accountability can reduce manual labor while improving outcomes.

Do you think automation could help improve IFU compliance in your own central sterile department? Join the conversation and share your thoughts below, or contact Xerafy.  

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