Where the Data is All Made Up & the Productivity Reports Don’t Matter

“I had 200% productivity tonight!” – Technician #1

“I only had 30% productivity, but I was in decontamination.” – Technician #2

The state of most Sterile Processing productivity measurements today is completely broken. Any honest manager knows this, as does anyone who has ever taken a long look at the data that creates them. Departments that want to have an objective measurement for their production capabilities are constantly frustrated by incomplete and inconclusive data points. Sterile Processing leaders and frontline technicians are then left with the choice of either ignoring the data all together or trying to explain away the unrealistic outliers that show up on regular reports.

The Problem for Department Leaders

There are two primary implications for this lack of reliable productivity data: one impacts leaders and the other impacts frontline staff. For Sterile Processing managers, the constant pressures to meet external productivity metrics from hospital administrators and Chief Financial Officers drives them to glean as much data as possible to find answers. Unfortunately, the deeper they dig into most instrument tracking systems, the more they realize the data they find is incomplete, inconsistent, and unclear about what it’s actually measuring (and what it’s not). This can take many forms, but here are a few examples:

  • Double Scanning – At various stages of the reprocessing workflow, a surgical tray can be unintentionally or intentionally “double scanned,” which means the productivity data is immediately skewed to include twice as much work in half the time. Expecting department leaders to be able to identify these data exceptions manually is unrealistic and undermines the value of system reports.

  • Inaccurate or Incomplete Labor Standards – The formula that some tracking systems use is based on individual “labor standards” that are associated with unique trays. So a Major Basic Tray may be given 2 minutes for decontamination and 10 minutes for tray assembly. However, more often than not, these time standards were not developed with any real connection to true set decontamination and assembly times and were artificially set at a global scale. Additionally, it’s not uncommon to identify large swaths of tray inventory with no associated labor standards at all– meaning the time spent processing those trays is not recorded into any productivity report.

  • Real Worked Hours vs. Tracking System Hours – Because department payroll is based on company time keeping, not tracking system login times, there is a continual disconnect between recorded productive time in a tracking system and paid time that shows up on corporate productivity reporting. This means if an employee comes in, goes to work in Decontam., but never logs into a tracking system — they are paid for 8 hours, even though their productivity numbers show as 0%.

The Problem for Department Technicians

From the perspective of frontline technicians, this productivity data challenge can be just as frustrating. Sterile Processing technicians take a lot of pride in their work, and for good reason. There is as much skill involved as there is grit, determination, sweat, and even creativity. And if they put their hearts and soul into their work, we want to be sure it is accurately measured — especially if it means the difference between getting open positions filled or adding new teammates as surgical volume grows. As with department leaders, productivity data shortcomings impact technicians in a number of ways. Here are just a few to consider:

  • A Focus on Numbers – When technicians know they will be measured by productivity metrics, human nature has a way of kicking in and pulling their focus onto the items/actions in the department that have “the biggest bang for the buck.” Because of the known data shortcomings in most tracking systems, it takes about five seconds for technicians to figure out the trays that give them 30 minutes of productive “credit” for 5 minutes of actual work. This isn’t gaming the system. They didn’t set the labor standards; they are just doing their job. But when made to choose between trays that reflect positive or negative productivity, the choice isn’t hard for them to make.

  • Productivity Blackholes – Because most department productivity comes down to a single unit of service (such as Trays Processed, Instruments Processed, etc.) certain assignment areas become known as “productivity blackholes”. Decontamination and Sterilization are examples of this. These assignment areas are not typically feeding directly into “Tray Processed” data for individual team members, so if you are assigned to Decontamination multiple times per week – your individual total “Tray Processed” productivity stats will naturally suffer.

The Difference in What Has Happened & How Long It Should Take

Ultimately, challenges with accurately recording and reporting productivity in Sterile Processing comes down to understanding the difference between the actual work done in the department and how long it should take to complete that work. As noted above, most tracking systems today can’t even accurately tell us what has been done, what has been duplicated, and the true time involved in the process – much less give us an intelligent idea of how long these tasks should take our teams. This puts frontline technicians in the awkward position of trying to defend their own productivity with data that is full of errors and inconsistencies – it’s a no-win scenario for department leaders and technicians alike. Unless your instrument tracking system addresses these concerns, you may be living in a world where the data is all made up and the productivity reports don’t matter.