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How to Cultivate a Culture of Open Communication in Sterile Processing

One weekend I had the opportunity to speak with fellow industry professionals for a virtual conference hosted by Central Service Association of Iowa (CSAI). A large group of professionals gathered, and one of the panel discussions regarded speaking up about safety in your department. The truth is we often see red flags or safety concerns and don’t feel that our voice or opinions are valid. So how exactly do we learn to speak up and develop a culture of open communication when the doors often feel very closed? 

We are going to walk through five key ideas that may help your staff and leadership feel like they can open up and speak up. 

Get transparent 
Sharing objectives and key results (OKRs) with your team can help give a new perspective and a renewed sense of purpose for the team. For example, if management has a whiteboard in the department with a clear list of department goals and issues they are working through, when a technician comes to management frustrated about always feeling overworked and being short-staffed, they may have a better understanding that management has been diligently working for three weeks to get corporate approval for additional full-time employees. While providing routine business updates fosters transparency, going one step further by sharing OKRs keeps everyone aligned and focused on the same outcome, while also promoting openness.

Open your door and be open to new ideas
Having an open-door policy goes a really long way, or even having open-door hours where your team knows that they can come to you with departmental concerns leaves room for new conversations. However, be prepared that if you come to the table with concerns or complaints, you should come armed equally with solutions to the problems and ideas for improvement.

One of the panel members in the conference, Marie Brewer, implemented an anonymous box in her department when she started as a supervisor in her SP department. Technicians could place any and all concerns in the box, and she worked through them one by one to address the departmental concerns. Some were quick fixes; others were long-term solutions that required corporate approval and grants to achieve. The moral of the story being had she not implemented this idea into reality, she would have had hundreds of unaddressed concerns, setting her up for failure as a leader, or a team of disgruntled staff that never expressed, in some cases, items that were easy fixes.

 Create round-robin conversations
Another great way to have and cultivate conversations is to have monthly round-robin conversations with alternating hosts. For example, the first month could be hosted by the SP director who discusses the topic of sharps being left on power equipment when coming into decontamination. The director of surgery, human resources officer, infection prevention, safety officer, and a scrub technician might be some good decision-makers to have as part of the round-robin. This will not only shed light for decision-makers that had no idea it was an issue, but it can start a new conversation with different perspectives and suggestions that may otherwise be missed.

The following month, maybe infection prevention hosts the conversation and brings the operating room’s statistics for surgical site infections to the table. The teams present could discuss areas where the misses are, and address some solutions that they can address collaboratively as a group. These conversations open up a new level of respect for each other’s roles and also create solutions that maybe wouldn’t be discovered without the talks. 

Close the loop
When issues or safety concerns are brought to the attention of management, it’s incredible how far a thank you can go. This lets them know that you appreciate their willingness to be open and transparent with their views, and it encourages them to share again in the future. Once you’ve received these concerns, it’s imperative to close the feedback loop. If you’ve determined next steps, communicate to the team member what those are, and close the loop with the people who provided the original feedback.

Lead by example 
If you are in a leadership role, it’s critical that you candidly share your feedback to ideas, that you admit to areas where maybe you could have done better by the team, and that you ask for feedback from your team on how you’re doing. This shows your team that you are human, too, and that you value their feedback on how you’re doing as a leader.

The safety of your team, and ultimately the patient, comes down to how well issues are articulated, and how well they are resolved internally. The next time you have a concern, speak up because the safety of more than just you may be at stake. It’s a group effort to cultivate and create this culture, and not a project that can be taken on alone.

Rebecca Kinney is a medical sales representative and small business owner of Cypress, Inc. She is a Certified Central Service Vendor Partner (CCSVP). Rebecca has worked in healthcare for more than 15 years: 7 years as a sterile processing technician and 8 years in medical sales working directly with SP. Focused on a proactive and consultative approach, she takes her experience to share knowledge in the field she wishes she knew when she worked in SP. She actively participates in speaking engagements and uses LinkedIn as an educational tool to reach an audience of almost 30,000 professionals. 

Continual process improvement and education lending to patient safety has always been her primary objective.

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