Healthcare’s Best Kept Secret
It is estimated that there are more than 50 million surgical and non-surgical procedures performed in the United States every year. In 2011, the CDC recorded approximately 721,800 healthcare-acquired infections (HAI) and of that, 157,500 can be attributed to surgical site infections (SSI). Although these numbers may seem high, HAI’s have been slowly trending downward. As medicine and healthcare continue to evolve, so does disease and bacteria. The goal is to always stay one step ahead and continue to invest heavily in research and development in order to combat illnesses and reduce infection rates. Action plans and changes in protocol have seen great success in targeting specific infections and drastically reducing their presence.
In addition to action plans and other adjustments, hospitals and healthcare facilities have a secret weapon against the battle with HAI’s and more specifically surgical site infections. This secret weapon comes in the form of a seldom known group of individuals, who go by many names. Often referred to as central service techs, sterile processing techs, and other similar variations. Central service techs work in an area of the hospital known as the Sterile Processing Department and the work they do behind the scenes is incredibly important. Typically, not seen and often working in a windowless basement or a secluded corner of a hospital. They are not the friendly faces that greet you when you enter a hospital or the skilled nurses and physicians that care for you when you’re sick, but if you or a loved one have ever had surgery I can assure you that you have felt their impact. So, who are these central service techs?
What We Do
The sterile processing department is often referred to as “the heart of the hospital”, and for good reason. The department, which is typically centralized, is responsible for the reprocessing of surgical instrumentation and medical equipment used throughout a hospital and redistribution for use on future patients, essentially acting as a heart. This process begins with decontamination and manual cleaning which involves removing debris and bioburden from the surgical instruments and equipment. This is followed by inspection and assembly, a process in which meticulous inspection of each instrument to ensure cleanliness and proper function must take place, after which, the instruments are assembled into trays according to strict specifications. Once properly assembled, the instruments are then sterilized using various methods including steam, gas-plasma, and ethylene oxide. From here, instrumentation is then stored or redistributed to the appropriate areas.
Sterile processing is considered an entry-level job, requiring high-level skills. Technicians are expected to memorize hundreds of surgical instruments, understand the biology of microorganism and how they spread, and conceptualize the processes, chemistry, and technology involved in sterilization. Furthermore, techs in some states and healthcare facilities are now required to become certified in sterile processing. It is clear that the role of the central service technician is vital for any facility performing surgical procedures.
Why We Do It
Central processing techs are proud of what they do, knowing that their work has a direct effect on patient outcomes. So, I ask again “who are these central service technicians?” They are; the first line of defense in preventing surgical site infections. The individuals working overtime to meet the high demands of a busy hospital. The people behind the scenes keeping the operating rooms running. The ones ensuring that every instrument is free of any microbial life and is in perfect working condition. These incredibly talented people are the hidden healthcare heroes. Please take a moment to honor them and join in celebrating Central Service Week. October 14 – 20, 2018.