Stunning Results: Sterile Processing Department Case Study

Reducing Instrument Loss and Improving Surgical Instrument Processing


A University Medical Center with 29 ORs had large expenditures due to lost instruments. It experienced case delays, frustrated surgeons and staff, and increased facility costs.

Sullivan’s Plan:

Our plan was to perform an in-depth review and revise instrument handling protocols, establish a policy for process changes, and recommend optimal staffing for instrument processing.

We addressed staffing, organizational, and procedural needs by making the following improvements:

  1. Developing a new staffing plan to optimally support the current volume and workload demands of the medical center
  2. Devising an organizational plan to ensure clinical and managerial expertise and educational support within the sterile processing program
  3. Establishing an instrument processing education program for OR and sterile processing staff
  4. Setting up an OR/Sterile Processing Communication/Operational Task Force
  5. Developing a sterile processing policy and staff education plan to reduce autoclave “wet loads” care and handling
  6. Implementing a real-time instrument loss/damage tracking system
  7. Establishing point-of-use instrument care protocols
  8. Initiating an instrument tray utilization, reconfiguration, and standardization project
  9. Optimizing the instrument tracking system


  1. Instrument replacement costs decreased by $250,000 annually.
  2. The cost of instrument processing rework due to “wet loads” was reduced by $12,000 annually.
  3. Staff and surgeon job satisfaction improved.
  4. Collaborative planning was initiated through the OR/Sterile Processing Communication/Operational Task Force.
  5. Professional, clinically knowledgeable sterile processing leadership was secured.
  6. SPD employee safety increased.
  7. SPD reprocessing protocols were elevated to achieve compliance with national standards.
  8. The quality of patient care improved.
  9. Postoperative instrument damage and instrument reprocessing time was reduced.

Our experts’ thorough review of the organization’s current processes and results revealed several opportunities for high-impact improvement in the near and long term. Sullivan engaged and educated the staff to gain buy-in and made realistic, achievable recommendations based on 40 years of experience in ORs and deep knowledge of best practices and current industry standards. Sullivan leaders further partnered with all OR personnel to drive effective implementation of the recommendations and support change management. The results speak for themselves.

Be sure to visit us at OR Manager Conference Booth 620 and register to win one of 12 copies of The Healthcare Executive’s Guide to Navigating the Surgical Suite co-authored by Gerald E. Biala, MSN, RN, CNOR, CSSM, Senior VP of Sullivan Healthcare Consulting and Theresa A. Fitzpatrick, PhD, RN, FAAN. Published by Sigma.

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