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It’s Time to Call It: Unleashing the Power of the Conference Call for Sterile Processing Improvement

How many times have you found yourself in the midst of one of those “I can’t believe this is happening” situations in your sterile processing department? Perhaps the department is starting to flood because of an incoming hurricane in your costal region. Or maybe the boiler at your steam plant just went kaput at 10 a.m. in the middle of a heavy surgical schedule.

The possibility of these types of sterile processing experiences is more likely than you may think. Depending on your level of experience or access to industry expertise within your facility, the key decision-making responsibility may land squarely on your shoulders. What would you do next? Suppose you don’t know. Where would you go to find answers you can trust?

Whether it’s a time of critical need like the examples above, or merely a moment of indecision about a complex process, one of the most powerful tools available to you is actually a simple phone call. Here are three ways to make sure your next dial tone ends with real solutions and tangible improvement for your SPD team.

Know who to call (and who to trust)
We have an industry full of committed and experienced sterile processing professionals who have been through almost anything that you may run into during your time in an SPD department. You may not know them yet, but they are out there. They could be working at the facility across town or even across the street; however, if you haven’t had the opportunity to meet them yet or develop a professional relationship, they may not pick up the phone if you call them unannounced. If they do pick up, they still may not have a vested interest in helping you find a solution for your current situation.

To preempt this problem, you should be building relationships with other sterile processing leaders and subject matter experts who could someday be on the other end of a frantic phone call from you. Develop a contact list, ensure you keep phone numbers up to date, and even make notes on the topics they may be stronger in than you (John Smith – steam guy, Rebecca Thompson – AAMI standards, etc.). Inherent in all this, however, is the need to distinguish someone who merely has a lot of experience from someone who actually has expertise in the industry. There are, unfortunately, a number of leaders across the country with more than 20 years’ experience in doing things the wrong way. Those are not the ones you want to call when the steam hits the fan.

Have the humility to ask before it’s too late
Even if you know who to call, you still need the right perspective and humility to make the call for help before it’s too late. It is understandably hard for some of us to admit when we do not know how to fix something ourselves, especially if we are department managers or directors with departments full of technicians looking to us for direction on a daily basis. Admitting we don’t have all the answers shows weakness, and if you are not filled to the brim with self-confidence, this tinge of weakness can be all it takes to keep us from ever picking up the phone in the first place.

That being said, for ongoing challenges in sterile processing, you can only kick the can down the road for so long. Eventually, decisions have to be made. Too many delays finding real solutions will often push a department beyond the point of no return. Low morale might have been unaddressed for 12 months and now the culture is so toxic the department can’t hire or retain anyone except travelers. These things really happen, but they don’t have to with the right phone number and a dash of humility.

Gather round the speaker phone
Finally, if you know who to call in your time of need and you can work up the nerve give them a ring, there’s no reason you couldn’t bring other members of your team into the room to discuss the challenges as a group. Are you having issues with bioburden in your orthopedic loaner trays? Get your team leads, educator, and some frontline staff to hop on a conference call with a trusted subject matter expert to talk through the issues as an entire team. Are you unsure how to document a serious safety event and develop education for the rest of your shifts? Grab some key staff and put your contact on speaker phone.

When you can work through critical issues like these as a team, together with a subject matter expert on the line, you can get to sustainable solutions that much quicker. While there’s nothing wrong with one-on-one conversations, there is a reason the telephone game has a bad rap. Individuals all consume, remember, and communicate information differently. The closer your team can get to the source of expert insight and perspective, the easier it will be for them to understand the nuances and application of the advice itself.

Until we can teleport consultants directly into our decontamination areas like a science fiction novel, well placed conference calls are still some of the best kept secrets for getting the right answers, right now for your sterile processing challenges. For those resources to be ready when you need them, real professional relationships must be built, trust developed, phone numbers saved, humility applied, and the team gathered to collaborate and work through solutions as a department. If you invest in these concepts today, the next time your only autoclave breaks down in the middle of the night, you will know exactly what to do.

Call it.

What say you?

Feature articles exclusively for Ultra Clean Systems by Weston “Hank” Balch, BS, MDiv, CRCST, CER, CIS, CHL

Weapon of Mass Microbial Destruction * Professional Clean Freak * Podcast Host * Safety Addict * CS/SPD Consultant

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