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Plugged-In and Processing: Smart Home, Why Not Smart CS/SPD?

How smart is your sterile processing department? No, I’m not asking if all your technicians went to Harvard and majored in the study of Geobacillus stearothermophilus, although that would be great. I’m talking gadgets and gizmos, sensors and switches, the kinds of things that you would imagine if your hospital married a Best Buy and had a baby.

While many of us are outfitting our homes with the latest smart devices on the market, large numbers of our departments are still operating under the same technologies that were in use more than 40 years ago when Jimmy Carter was president and the movie Grease was just hitting theatres. Knowing this, let’s take a look at some options already on the market that could take your department from old-school unplugged to plugged-in and processing.

Sterile and smart
Here are six smart concepts already in use in homes today that could change the way you do sterile processing in 2018.

Smart thermostats
Even with AAMI ST79:2017’s recent workgroup decision to remove specific recommendations for department temperature and humidity parameters from their documents, controlling these aspects of department life are still critically important for your sterile processing team. Current smart thermostat technologies allow users to remotely monitor the temperature of their home via mobile apps and dashboards, set acceptable ranges for different rooms, and notify users of any variations. Recent releases can even detect hot or cold spots in rooms to ensure all areas in a space are within proper range. With one of the biggest challenges for surgical centers today being continual monitoring and recording of these parameters in their sterile storage areas, this type of technology is a prime candidate for adoption.

Wireless smart speakers
Department communication in the sterile processing space is a common challenge in large hospitals or across different areas of the workflow (from decontamination to prep pack, for instance). While some facilities use various types of hands-free communication devices, there is still a constant struggle to ensure these devices are not lost, are fully charged, and free from cross-contamination. A wireless, smart-speaker system allows the same level of communication between these teams without the need for lanyards, chargers, or frantic hide-and-seek games to track down rouge handhelds. Besides, who wouldn’t like to turn on some oldies for your team on Friday afternoon?

Alexa-type devices
When someone says “smart home,” most of us immediately think of Alexa, the Amazon-branded voice-activated device that can do a host of things, such as read us the news or order a pizza. But these devices could also have an immediate and helpful impact on your CS/SPD workflow, as well. Consider the following commands that your team could be using today, with little to no programming on your part:

  • Late loaner communication: “Alexa, send a message to the manager that Zimmer instruments for the second case have just arrived.”
  • IFU compliance assistance: “Alexa, set a timer for 30 seconds.” (flushing, rinsing, etc.)
  • Interdepartmental communication: “Alexa, call prep/pack.” (using another Alexa-type device)
  • Hands-free 24/7 education: “Alexa, listen to Beyond Clean podcast.” (my favorite)
  • Important user feedback: “Alexa, order more 4mm, 8″ brushes for decontam.” “Alexa, let Joe know we are out of medium gloves.”

While the decontamination area is not the only place where these types of voice-activated smart devices could be used, they are particularly useful there due to the nature of the work being done and the volume of potential information and communication that is currently hindered by the presence of PPE and the absence of comparable technology.

Smart light bulbs
As discussed recently in The Front Line (“Always Sunny in Sterile Processing: The Real Meaning of Light Duty”), light is an important and often overlooked aspect of sterile processing excellence. There are even more potential applications for the creative use of department lighting that come to us from current smart light bulb technology. With the flip of a switch or a voice command, your decontamination team could signal incoming rapid turnovers to the assembly side with a light that changes from a normal color to a bright red hue in an instant. Similarly, efficiency indicators could be integrated into your lighting system to notify staff of completed cart wash cycles, break times, and even processing timelines for priority trays.

Motion-sensing cameras
Although video monitoring can be a sensitive topic in some facilities, both the cost and capabilities of smart home security systems have changed dramatically in recent years, bringing substantial opportunity to departments for affordable, easy-to-use asset protection. These smart cameras can be set to turn on at particular times (such as during unstaffed overnight shifts or weekends) or use motion-sensing technology targeted on an external doorway to identify visitors coming into or leaving the unit. With mobile assets (in the form of instrument trays) valued anywhere from $1,500 to more than $100,000, it makes financial sense to have eyes in the sky, not to mention the potential benefit to locating misplaced or untracked surgical inventory.

Smart locks
Speaking of asset protection, current smart-locking technology could provide another layer of easy-to-use security for your sterile processing workflow. These units go beyond the common one-way door lock, numerical key pads, and other existing locking mechanisms in use in most hospital settings. Able to be activated remotely by Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, smart locks can be used for vendor rooms, clinic drop-off areas, manager offices, and any other restricted access room. The real value here is the ability to provide eKeys to approved visitors, receive notifications when certain doors are accessed, and remotely open an office (for instance) in times of immediate need.


Smarter by the day
While you may not receive approval to implement all of these smart devices in your department tomorrow, know that the smart revolution is in full swing and it is coming for you. Industry leaders across the country are already using these types of technologies in various forms and functions, leveraging their smart devices to make safer departments.

Are you ready to plug in and process?

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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