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Sterile Processing Department’s Opportunity with Preference Cards:  Stop Chasing and Wasting Resources

Posted by Marc Finch on Oct 9, 2020 1:22:01 PM
Marc Finch

One of the major keys for having a successful sterile processing department (SPD) is the efficiency and organization of the instruments and equipment. With fast turnaround times and operating room & surgeon preferences, an SPD must be able to keep up with what’s coming in and what’s going out at all times. In order for the SPD to run smoothly; processes, equipment, and SPD & operating room staff must be aligned. When there is no alignment and organization that’s when major issues arise.

Have you ever calculated the amount of time it takes for your staff to restock the shelves with the returned items? How long does it take for you to retrieve items for the OR due to the fact you did not know what item they needed for the case to begin with? Finally, when pulling a case cart for a surgical case do your preference cards help you or send you on wild goose chase?

While visiting many Sterile Processing Departments around the country we find that at the end of a case, shift or day we receive a rack full of supplies and instruments that were not used for a case that need to be returned to the shelf. On several occasions we see some of the items come back in dirty case carts. This causes a lot of waste: either wasted time returning items or wasted time reprocessing items that should not have been contaminated in the first place. There is also waste related to “return items” (unused items returned within a contaminated case cart). As a conservative estimate, the time wasted reprocessing return items contributes to an expense equaling and sometimes greater than 1.0 to 1.5 FTE’s over the course of a year!

Knowing what supplies you need and where your supplies are located is important. This will help improve efficiency by enabling staff to start at one end of the supply area and finish on the other end, with no wasted movement or time.

There are several benefits to having Preference Cards:

  • Help SPD staff pull correct case carts
  • Less returned items
  • Helps keep the inventory accurate
  • Reduces emergency call downs from the OR
  • Reduces cost

Preference cards are the responsibility of both the OR and SPD. Team up to help stop wasting time and supplies. SPD can keep track of return items and watch for trends to notify the person updating the preference cards of changes. The OR staff should continually monitor the surgeon to see if they are using a new technique or found a different product that helps with a better patient outcome. Preference cards should also be developed to open only essential items and hold those that are not used often. A preference card review in collaboration with SPD will reduce resource waste of time and supplies, prolong instrument life, reduce the overall cost of sterilization, and increase SPD and OR satisfaction.

Surgical Directions can help you avoid common preference card issues and quickly identify root causes of any problems. To get you on the right track, we offer a half-day workshop that provides a checklist for managing preference card optimization, decision-making assistance for your preference card priorities, and tools for tracking optimization progress. Please contact us at info@surgicaldirections.com to discuss how we can help you.

We can help with Preference Cards


This blog was co-authored by Anne Cole, Associate Vice President of Perioperative Nursing 

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Tags: SPD, Sterile Processing Department, Productivity, Sterile Processing Productivity, Performance Improvement, Surgical Volume, Sterile Processing Consulting, Sterile Processing, Hospitals, COVID-19

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