Studies Reveal Insights About Sterility Oversights in Hospitals
Consequences of the Incorrect Use of Infection Prevention Gear
A recently published, in-depth study of the use of protective equipment in the clinical units of two hospitals discovered that infection prevention gear is often used incorrectly or not used at all. In fact, this equipment was used improperly in 283 out of 325 observed interactions.
These kinds of omissions can have big consequences. In a highly publicized case this year, improperly cleaned surgical instruments at Porter Adventist Hospital in Denver, Colorado exposed as many as 5,800 spinal and orthopedic surgery patients to the risk of infection. The widespread sterilization breach was the result of human error, as hospital staff soaked and scrubbed surgery tools prior to machine cleaning and subsequent heat sterilization. The Colorado state’s final report, released on June 12, 2018, found 76 instances when contaminated surgical instruments and trays were used at the hospital between January 1, 2017 and April 2, 2018.
How Can This Problem be Solved?
Staff Inattention – Only Part of the Problem
In fact, these kinds of widely publicized sterilization issues and patient risk factors aren’t rare at all. Instances of sterilization procedure failures are frequent, and infection control processes are constantly being scrutinized and found to be lacking. Unfortunately, all too often, these protocol lapses are framed as a training and compliance issue, where hospital staff needs to be more diligent, meticulous, and attentive to infection control procedures.
While that is, of course, true, staff inattention is often only part of the problem. Hospital staff are under tremendous pressure, managing a great deal of stress, and required to constantly adapt to shifting priorities, sudden crises, and new information. The cognitive load of providing high-quality medical care and making the best possible life-changing decisions under time pressure can make it difficult to be attentive to small, repetitive details like sterilization protocols and protective equipment.
Infection Prevention Gear and Inventory Control
In the case of surgical instruments, it’s often a case of inventory control rather than a case of staff oversight. If par levels for instruments are incorrect, if unexpected traumas or schedule changes have altered the availability of instruments, or if the communication between the materials management systems and operating room scheduling systems are ineffective, then instrument sets are easily overbooked. In the case of overbooking, there can be tremendous pressure to quickly sterilize instruments and return them for immediate use without the necessary attention to detail and quality control.
Studies have evaluated the causes and effects of low instrument inventory and poor inventory management systems and found that they inevitably lead to a series of poor sterilization procedures. A very common way that hospital staff fail to properly sterilize surgical instruments is through overloaded and improperly loaded instrument trays and autoclaves. Autoclaves are overloaded and improperly loaded because there is high demand to return instruments to the operating room for immediate use. Even more common is the too frequent use of immediate-use steam sterilization procedures for non-standard purposes. IUSS increases the patient’s risk of surgical site infection, and the overuse of this process is of growing concern for infection control professionals.
Solutions to the Problem
Generally speaking, these improper sterilization procedures are due to time pressure arising from excess demands on supplies and inventory, which can be alleviated in three ways:
- Better scheduling of instruments and procedures. It happens all too often that medical staff seek their instruments when the patient is already prepped and in the OR, when delays can be life-threatening. SPD professionals who aren’t properly scheduled must meet an immediate need in that moment, and often use fast-turn and immediate-use processes that compromise quality assurance standards.
- Better inventory levels. Hospital administrators, SPD staff, and OR staff need to work together to determine the inventory levels and logistic flows to ensure that all supplies are stocked adequately and appropriately to reduce instances of inappropriate immediate-use sterilization processes.
- Wider deployment of single-use medical devices. As the range of effective, single-use medical devices expands, they offer a valuable, time-saving alternative to reusable instruments that need to be sterilized between uses. Single use medical devices are becoming more widely advocated, as the risks of cross-contamination and the rise of drug-resistant organisms makes sterility ever more critical in hospital and surgical settings. Single-use medical devices not only prevent contamination and disease transmission when used on only one patient, but they also do not require reprocessing, saving time and resources in sterilization processes. Single-use medical devices play an important role in preventing infection and cross contamination.
obp’s Single-Use Medical Devices – The Best in Infection Prevention Gear
obp makes a range of innovative illuminated single-use medical devices, which can control and prevent infection and cross-contamination as well as alleviate pressure on SPD departments and supply logistics. obp offers a wide range of scopes, seals, exam kits, and fluid management packs for every medical need. All are sterile, safe, and disposable.
obp’s range of single-use instruments are designed with the features and details that medical staff need to perform their best. obp instruments are self-illuminating, using bright LED lights powered by non-toxic batteries, making them both portable and more useful than non-illuminated instruments in a variety of medical settings. Attention to detail in design makes them ergonomically comfortable for medical staff and for patients, providing extra patient comfort on contact and insertions, and reducing fatigue and muscle strain for medical professionals during long exams and surgeries.
The Bottom Line
While hospital staff should always be rigorous in their safety and sterility procedures, the long-term solution to hospital sterility challenges may not lie in greater training or observation of staff behaviors. It isn’t always accurate to portray sterility lapses as failures in education, diligence, or attention to detail. Many of these situations arise from a simple shortage of necessary equipment that drives staff to make urgent, time-sensitive decisions that sometimes compromise the rigor of sterility procedures. In many cases, lapses are driven not by a disregard for protective equipment and procedures, but by ineffective methods of getting them the sterile equipment they need when they need it. Single-use medical devices offer a simple, time-saving solution to many of these challenges, and obp medical devices offer the safety and convenience of single-use devices, along with the quality, effectiveness, design, and comfort of reusable instruments. Contact us to find out how we can support quality patient care and the safest possible medical environments.