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Power for the People: How and Why to Use Your Influence for the Good of the Industry

Are you hungry for career growth? Are you looking to build a name for yourself in the sterile processing industry? Do you dream of the day when someone calls you a subject matter expert, key opinion leader, thought leader, or industry influencer? All are worthy goals in and of themselves, but without a purpose for your passion, you’ll end up at the end of your career with a stack of magazines in the corner with your name in them and a few plaques hanging on the wall. Is that really what you’re aiming for? The potential for using your influence for good is so much greater than a few feel-good moments and a little bit of name recognition. In this article, I’ll sketch out a short philosophy of thought leadership in sterile processing and argue for a particular purpose for growing your influence in your corner of the healthcare universe.

Insights on industry influence
If you didn’t already know it, key opinion leaders (KOLs, as they are known in the sterile processing space) are in huge demand in nearly every industry that involves decision-makers who can be influenced by others to make purchasing decisions. Key opinion leaders are similar to thought leaders and influencers in that they represent the ability for one person to change the way others make decisions, respond to industry changes, and behave when they encounter corporate messaging. When you consider that a single sterile processing manager could make a purchasing decision ranging from $300 for a single medical device to more than $3,000,000 for a multiyear service contract, the value that key opinion leaders hold for equipment manufacturers and service organizations is massive. If a single key opinion leader can impact or influence the purchasing decisions of ten other sterile processing leaders, we’re talking about a potential swing of tens of thousands, if not millions of dollars. Make no mistake, thought leadership in sterile processing is big business.

What is critical for you to realize as you consider your role in key opinion leadership is that most manufacturers in our industry have gotten their thought leadership strategy dead wrong, which leaves a big window of opportunity open for you. For the last two decades, the emphasis of sterile processing manufacturers has been on identifying organizational leaders as the target for leveraging key opinion leadership related to their brands and products. More than anything manufacturers wanted the “President of…” or the “Senior Director of SPD at…” to speak on their behalf or be associated with their product. What did they miss? Only the most important part of the real value of industry influence: Do people actually listen to and take action because of this KOL’s opinion? Do decision-makers really care what the “President of…’s” opinion is on a particular product? More than often the answer was no.

The revolution of influence
Even though this traditional approach to sterile processing key opinion leadership was broken, there were real influencers out in the industry, and they were really impacting which products and services were being purchased across the country. These actual KOLs possessed a critical component of successful industry influence and knew how to use it: credibility. More than titles, positions, salary, experience, platforms, or publications, credibility was the determining factor in whether or not a sterile processing professional was seen as a key opinion leader or just someone who likes to share their opinion. Without credibility, how do we know this person even knows what they’re talking about? Have they ever actually done the work? Do they understand the real challenges of our departments, or do they only pretend?

The true revolution of industry influence happened when social media removed the need for sterile processing KOLs to gain a platform by trying to get published in an industry magazine or applying to speak at a national conference. With Facebook and LinkedIn, a savvy sterile processing professional could now take their ideas, insights, and opinions directly to the masses and carry on as many conversations as they wanted, as often as they wanted, without any editorial oversight or approval from someone who might have their own difference of opinion. For the first time in our industry, these influencers could gain a direct following for their ideas, and engage with those followers on an ongoing basis to further develop the value of credibility for their personal thought leadership.

Power to do good
As mentioned above, you no longer need a big title or fancy position to be considered a key opinion leader in the sterile processing space, but you must have unique insights and ideas, and credibility as an industry professional. If you really know this space and have fresh perspectives that can actually work, then you have tremendous power to change how sterile processing is done in your facility, region, nation, and even around the globe. Every day, normal patients come in off the streets into trauma hospitals, ASCs, endoscopy centers, and community hospitals oblivious to the state of sterile processing in those facilities. Are those departments following best practice? Are they using the best products and technologies to clean, inspect, package, sterilize, and store instrumentation? Your key opinion leadership can impact whether or not the department across the street is using an internal borescope to inspect their orthopedic shaving handles. Your thought leadership can prompt that clinic across town to reconsider how long they let their devices sit before transporting for reprocessing.

Regardless of whether you get paid to share your opinions with your industry peers, I urge you to begin seeing the real value and opportunity key opinion leadership holds for you, the products you believe in, and the patients you’ve committed your career to care for. Sterile processing decision-makers will be influenced by someone. If you know this industry, love this industry, and have good ideas for how this industry can improve, they might as well be listening to 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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