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RFID: A Central Sterile Service Department Perspective


Most healthcare facilities have established central sterile service or supply departments (sometimes known as central sterile processing) that decontaminate instruments, assemble instrument sets, sterilize equipment, prepare case cart systems for surgery, manage loaner instrumentation and implants, and acquire or purchase instruments, implants, and other supplies.


But their primary role is in preventing infections in the hospital. These departments follow stringent processes to keep sterile items cordoned off from contaminated devices or instruments, and to ensure proper sterilization of all items.


They also play an important role in making sure all surgical trays are complete. Surgical tray errors are considered critical incidents in a hospital, because they can put the hospital at legal risk. Avoiding tray errors reduces risk to patient safety as well as liability for the surgical team and facility.


RFID tags can help hospitals better manage this process, and provide a real-time, accurate electronic record of the status of each tagged instrument or device. RFID does not introduce any new processes into the sterilization workflow; instead, it guides each item automatically through those workflows, and provides documentation indicating when each step in the process is complete. It can also update the system when the instruments has undergone repairs, sharpening or modification.


For hospitals applying total quality management to surgical tray or kit building, RFID can help automate manual tray counts and checks that are typically used to confirm the accuracy of the tray/kit. RFID data can also be used to identify bottlenecks or operational failures during the sterilization and tray-building process. That data is also easily auditable for quality improvement or accreditation purposes.


Loaner instrumentation presents an even greater challenge. When hospitals are unable to purchase particular instruments outright, they often borrow them from other facilities or act as trial locations for new devices. The central sterilization department not only has to clean these instruments, but also identify any problems associated with them and track the items throughout their lifecycle as they enter and then later leave inventory.


Avoiding surgical site infections is a top priority at all healthcare facilities. Central sterilization departments can reduce or eliminate these infections by automatically monitoring the sterilization process, ensuring all instruments are properly sterilized and are given enough time to dry afterward, and that the correct instruments are placed in each surgical tray or set. RFID enables all of these efforts, and can help streamline the management of loaner instruments or trays.

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