3 Design Considerations for Sterile Processing Departments

If someone is planning to build their dream kitchen, design is sure to play a central role. Perhaps that’s locating the dishwasher close to the sink for easier loading, placing the pull-out garbage in a place where food preparation will take place or incorporating functional drawers to carry items that might otherwise become counter clutter. The point is, design matters.

In hospital settings, where surgical instruments need to be sterile to ensure staff and patient safety, it’s critical that the hub where those materials are processed and reprocessed on a daily basis, the Sterile Processing Department (SPD), be a space that is designed to maximize efficiency, prioritize safety and adhere to industry standards set by groups such as the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI), the Association of periOperative Nurses (AORN), the Society of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates (SGNA) and The Joint Commission.

Whether you’re planning a new SPD or renovating an existing one, these three design considerations will help ensure you’re creating the safest and most efficient SPD space possible:

Location, location, location: Whether you’re seeing patients in a high-volume academic medical center, an ambulatory surgical center or a Level-1 trauma center, the location of an SPD department plays a critical role in creating a workflow that allows an SPD to effectively turnover, manage, and deliver the instruments to its customers. If space allows, locating the SPD on the same floor as the Operating Rooms (OR) is an ideal design, since that’s where 70%-80% of sterilized instruments will be needed. Having an SPD on the same floor will reduce the time it takes for SPD staff to deliver equipment to the OR, which is doubly beneficial because it not only gets that person back to the department faster but it also lessens the amount of time sterile surgical equipment is traveling through the hospital halls.

Let standards be your foundation: Before getting too far into the design of an SPD environment, a good place to start is familiarizing yourself with industry standards set by groups such as AAMI and AORN. They can help with everything from how to structure the room to how much light and access to water is needed. It’s also important to keep up with design trends, such as LEAN, a strategy centered around continuous reviews with the goal of identifying efficiencies. Conducting a LEAN analysis before design is essential to identifying existing or potential issues. According to AAMI, key topics impacting design that those planning to build or renovate SPDs should evaluate include:

  • Adjacencies of sterile processing and surgical instrument areas
  • Transport systems for movement of soiled and sterilized instruments
  • Storage of sterile inventory within SPD and surgery areas
  • Use of a case cart system
  • Waste stream component such as recycling and biomedical waste
  • Traffic pattern for waste removal and holding
  • A fast-track or quick-turn-around system for instrument reprocessing

Have clear boundaries: Regardless of the size of your SPD, it’s important to clearly separate soiled, clean and sterile instruments with physical barriers. It can be helpful to create a workflow that is as linear as possible. A thoughtful workflow will move soiled instruments from decontamination to their place in the next surgical kit in a streamlined fashion, preventing SPD staff from tripping over each other or entering sterile spaces unnecessarily.

Following these steps when planning for or designing a Sterile Processing Department will provide maximum workflow efficiency while using minimal space, which is beneficial for hospital staff and patients alike.