The work of sterile processing departments: An exploratory study using qualitative interviews and a quantitative process database

Joanna Veazey Brooks, Jessica A.R. Williams, Ksenia Gorbenko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: The sterile processing of surgical instruments and equipment is an essential part of surgical operations. Although clean instruments prevent infections, little is known about the departments that conduct this work. We sought to describe sterile processing departments (SPDs) and to identify factors impacting them. Methods: We analyzed data from 22 qualitative interviews of staff and managers and a quantitative benchmarking database. Results: Qualitative results indicated 4 primary factors impacting sterile processing work: (1) role and visibility, (2) relationships and communication with other departments and vendors, (3) staffing and management, and (4) technical problems and solutions. Quantitative analysis revealed significant differences in SPD responsibilities and scope. Discussion: Relationships with operating room staff were of paramount importance in the ability of the SPD to accomplish its job and in staff motivations and feelings. Differences in management practices, communication strategies, and problem-solving resources were also emphasized. Both quantitative and qualitative data showed concern for the role of the SPD in patient safety, particularly concerning practices such as the use of immediate-use steam sterilization. Conclusions: To more completely address adverse patient events and surgical patient safety, we must move toward examining the entire surgical process, including the vital role of SPDs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)816-821
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican journal of infection control
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Epidemiology
  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases

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