Sterile Processing Consulting: Benefits and Tips to Know

Written on 03/06/2021
Sterile Education

by Adam Okada


Most sterile processing leaders that I know would never think to hire outside sterile processing consulting.  As a former manager myself, the thought of bringing in an outside consultant never really crossed my mind.

It was only when I became a consultant myself that I saw the benefits of the process to all departments, not just the ones that were in immediate jeopardy.

I wasted years as a manager trying to do everything on my own, probably because my own ego wouldn’t allow me to look elsewhere for help.  I was so convinced that I knew the guidelines and knew how to pass any survey all by myself.  But sterile processing leader, I am here to tell you that the single most important decision you might make is the one that brings in an outside consultant that can save your department a lot of head and heartache.

Allow me to explain.

What is a Sterile Processing Consultant?

A sterile processing consultant is a professional with extensive experience in the industry who can observe the operations of your department and make suggestions to improve things from a regulatory perspective, as well as from a day-to-day operations perspective.  They often arrive with a checklist based on regulatory requirements and industry guidelines for best practice.

Yes, you will have to pay them.  But if your Joint Commission or State survey window is about to open, the single best way to prepare is to shell out a few thousand dollars to get a vastly experienced, but more importantly, fresh set of eyes on your processes.

A Fresh Set of Eyes

This was the biggest thing I missed in readying for survey by stubbornly refusing to bring in an outside consultant.  You are the eyes of your department.  And you may think (misguidedly) that you see all and know all.

Let me assure you, that you do not.

There are things that your techs do when the boss is around, and there is the way they do things when no one is watching.

We as sterile processing leaders likely take a look at our own department with a defensiveness and blindness to what is actually going on.  Humans are emotional beings after all, and it’s this emotion about our own department that can cloud our vision to reality of the situation.  We want to believe that our staff is brushing through lumens at the sink every time, regardless of whether that lumen has been “used” on the case or not (because how can they really tell?).  But are they realistically doing that every time?

An outside consultant is skilled at identifying these things, like finding toothbrushes on the clean side, or adhesive remover hidden in someone’s workstation drawer.

A fresh set of eyes will look on the process to see how your techs interact, how they communicate, how they react to a case cart arriving in a completely different way than you do, and it’s this perspective that is invaluable.

Policies, Procedures, and Competencies

Does your department follow every departmental policy to the letter?  When was the last time you read through each policy to find out?  Do the procedures outlined in the policy accurately reflect the practices in your department?  Does every staff member have up to date competencies that are updated yearly?

Most leaders don’t have time to look backwards and update these things, but these issues have torpedoed more than one department that I have heard of.

A consultant will likely identify if you have this gap before they even arrive at the facility, when they ask for a copy or your hospital policies, procedures, and competencies.

Isn’t it worth the cost of the consultant just for this piece alone?  Who couldn’t use some help to update your department policies and competencies?

Mock Survey

I will always treat future consultants a “real surveyor” and have them show up to my department unannounced.  I always like to see how consistently survey-ready my staff really is by testing them with an unannounced survey

Think of it like a practice survey that your staff thinks is real.

This way, you can see how they will react on the actual survey day, and the consultant will get to “surprise” staff with questions about the process.

This “mock survey” is the single best way to ready your department for being in a state of continuous survey readiness.

Evaluate Your Department

Be honest with yourself as you answer this question.  Is my department ready to get through this upcoming survey?

If the answer is no, then your decision is easy.  Make that call and hire an experienced and trusted consultant to come into the department and help you get to where you need to be.

If the answer is yes, then your decision is easy too.  Make that call and hire an experienced and trusted consultant to come into the department and verify that you are ready.

Remember, if that consultant catches even one issue that could be a finding, the money is already worth it.  Because a return visit from The Joint Commission or CMS will be far costlier to your hospital.  And if the consultant finds nothing, and your department really is 100% survey ready, then you’ve just paid for verification to your bosses that you are worth every penny of your salary as a sterile processing leader!

There really isn’t a downside, so make sure you make hiring an outside sterile processing consultant a regular part of your budget every 3 years!

Consultant Recommendations

Sterile Education recommends:

  • Beyond Clean:  Beyond Clean has a sterling reputation in the industry and their head of consulting, Bob Marrs, is the recipient of the lifetime achievement award from IAHCSMM which is widely considered the highest honor in the industry.  Guaranteed that you will not be disappointed with any of Beyond Clean’s services.
  • Sterile Education: Sterile Education consultants have over 100 years of combined experience in sterile processing and have helped large hospitals and small surgery centers alike prepare for surveys all over the west coast.  We also offer a FREE return visit to observe the processes after changes have been made to ensure that your department is always in a “survey-ready” state.