Sterilization Services – Infection control and the benefits of traceability

What is Central Sterilization?

CSSD is short for Central Sterilization Services Department in hospitals. In short, this the place employees and machines sterilize medical devices and equipment for subsequent use. Those devices are e.g. surgical instruments. Finally, the overall target of sterilization services is to prevent infection of personnel and patients. The World Federation for Hospital Sterilization Services (WFHSS) harmonizes sterilization departments processes and decontamination practices.

Overview of traceability in Sterilization Services Departments

Sterilization Services in hospitals and laboratories ensure patient and personnel safety and support infection control

In this paragraph I describe sterilization in some more details. Firstly, let’s start with the definition:

Sterilization is a method to reach zero contamination with microbial life on objects

Secondly, mainly three different processes reach sterilization of devices:

(1) high temperature and pressure cleaning,
(2) (gas) chemical
(3) and ultraviolet sterilizations.
All of them offer individual advantages and distadvantages.

Thirdly, there is a need for documentation of the process. Certainly this is a request, independent from the sterilization method. Finally, the demands on the documentation are very high. On the one hand, full traceability is important. On the other hand, additionally, real-time documentation on all surgical instruments is of same importance. However, still many of the central sterilization departments show low or even no automation. The cause is high efforts as manual documentation is time consuming. Moreover, it comes along with a higher risk of failure. Finally this results in reduced equipment utilization.

Ever heard about the medical device regulation (MDR)

Finally, in May 2021, the medical device regulation (European law) is enforced. This results in a full traceability request for medical devices. As summary, all devices need to have an UDI. Learn more and get insights: Medical Device Regulation.

Which technologies help me improving equipment utilization and efficiency in Central Sterilization?

Now we know, that documentation and traceability is a must in central sterilization. But what technologies help me to reach the requirements? In conclusion, today mainly three different automatic identification technologies (AIDC) support the documentation requirements.

Overview auto ID technologies
  1. Barcodes: Barcodes are a cost efficient solution. Therefore they are widely used for inventory documentation. On the other hand the down-side is that the reader only reads one code after the other. The system is vision based. Therefore it means it only identifies clean codes.
  2. QR-Codes: The big advantage is that they can hold much more information than a barcode. But still they are vision based. Therefore they need to be clean and directly visible for the camera. The codes are usually laser marked, so they are vulnerable to rust.
  3. RFID: A RFID tag does not need to be dircetly visible to the reader. Also bulk-reading of codes is possible which increases process speed. On top most importantly, a read/write system allows to write multiple different data on the tag. Finally it makes it a highly flexible solution.

In conclusion is that RFID technologies offers huge advantages. And this makes it a attractive solution in Central Sterilization Departments.

How to use RFID for trolleys and trays?

Trolleys, containers, and equipment with RFID tags mounted are the basis for tracking. Now, at specific points with RFID antennas they are automatically tracked. For example these points could be in the operating theatre. But also in decontamination areas and sterilization departments. For further information you can just visit this site.

What is used on instruments? Barcodes and QR-codes for instruments

Barcode readers are available for use where printed labels (barcode and QR codes) are the equipment. Consequently, they are tagged or lasered on the instruments. Mainly, these readers typically read 1D and 2D codes and are available as handheld devices. In conclusion, barcodes are a very cost-efficient solution.

BVS HS-Q handheld barcode readers
Handheld reader

Combined solution with RFID and Vision

In the central sterilization services department usually both technologies are in use. Firstly, this means that the trolleys utilize RFID tags. After that, they are tracked from one process step to the other. Secondly, QR codes are usually lasered on instruments. However, RFID more and more makes its way on the instruments and devices. Ultimately, systems that read RFID and QR codes offer highest flexibility.

Beyond the steriliaztion services RFID offers huge benefits in operating theaters

The use of RFID technology on devices such as surgucal instruments leads to some more advantages. Firstly, in operating theaters, the medical team has to ensure that all instruments that are used during a surgery are finally removed from the patient and put back in the tray. This is a manual process today. Lists are filled and items checked after the surgery. Finally RFID makes this an automatic process. Above all, the result is less failures and higher efficiency.

Value, benefits and advantages

Using automatic identification technologies leads to multiple advantages that CSSDs can benefit from. They include:

  • Fostering paperless processes
  • Reducing search time for critical equipment
  • Significantly improving overall equipment utilization
  • Eliminating unnecessary equipment in inventory
  • Reducing operating costs

Overview of systems and components that help you to reach more automation

After learning about processes and technologies for sterilization services, it is about to select the right components.

Overview of components for traceability in central sterilization services departments

This article was published first on LinkedIn.

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December 19, 2023 12:16 pm

Thank you for sharing such insightful information, Christian! Your post on sterilization services and the significance of traceability offers a unique perspective. Emphasizing the role of RFID technology in automating and streamlining sterilization processes truly resonates with the growing need for efficient and meticulous healthcare practices. Your detailed overview sheds light on the immense value RFID brings to central sterilization departments, fostering a safer and more efficient environment for both patients and medical staff. Truly an eye-opening read!

Christian H.
January 9, 2024 3:07 pm

Thanks for the comment. Great that you liked it.

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