Data, data, data, blah, blah, blah….

In today’s digital world, it’s a word that we hear almost every day. But what exactly is data, and more specifically, how does it apply to a hospital and why should you want to read about it?

Well, hang around for a few more minutes and it will become clear.

In its simplest form, data is information in the form of quantities, characters, or symbols on which operations are performed. Consider a count sheet used to assemble a surgical tray. All the information displayed on the count sheet is data. The manufacture name, catalog number, description, and quantity is information in the form of quantities, characters, or symbols on which operations are performed – it’s all data. Make sense? Ok, but why should we care about it?

Count Sheet Data = Surgical Quality

Count sheets (data) are the basis and true foundation for which surgical instrument QUALITY is delivered to the Operating Room. Imagine an instrument tray is being used during surgery and the surgeon asks for a 70º Cooley Clamp to occlude a bleeding artery. But instead of the Cooley Clamp, the tray was assembled with a straight DeBakey Clamp because the count sheet contained an incorrect instrument description. While surgeons are extremely resilient and in many cases are able to push on, these types of scenarios could also result in fatal outcomes for the patient or at minimum very undesirable and stressful situations. Case in point, the instrument tray did not have what the surgeon needed, but it was at no fault of the person who assembled the tray. The failure point was the foundation from which that instrument tray was prepared: the inaccurate count sheet (data).

Data is the epicenter of the most important activities leading up to a successful surgery. But data can also become the biggest failure point for many of the processes that breakdown and cause angst as hospitals prepare for surgical procedures on a daily basis.

Surrounded by Data at Every Step


Let’s take our discussion a step further to better understand how data plays a role in some of the core processes leading to the delivery of surgical assets into the O.R.

1.     Assemble the instrument tray (according to the data displayed on the count sheet)

2.     Sterilize the instrument tray (according to data associated with that instrument set)

3.     Deliver the instrument tray to a storage location (based on the data printed on the label)

4.     Pick the instrument tray from sterile storage (based on data displayed on the preference card)

5.     Perform an OR pre-count (according to the data displayed on the count sheet)

Wow, that’s a lot of data! Recall our definition of data from earlier, information in the form of quantities, characters, or symbols on which operations are performed. Considering how intertwined data is with surgical preparation, it’s an understatement to say that having accurate and accessible data is fundamental to the efficiency and quality for which surgical devices are prepared for surgery. But achieving that is easier said than done.

Challenges of Achieving Data Accuracy


There are a two primary reasons that achieving accurate and consistent data is challenging:

1) Size, Complexity, & Process

The size of a hospital’s inventory (data set) is extremely large. The average 15 OR hospital has 1100 different tray types with an average of 22 instruments on each count sheet, which equates to a total of 22,000 instruments (data records)! The inventory is constantly growing and changing, but obsolete records are seldomly removed. On top of that, multiple different people are making those additions and changes. These factors combined contribute to a data set whose accuracy and consistency erodes over time at an exponential rate.

2) Data Structure & Accessibility

Every hospital falls into one of two categories: (1) they have a tracking system or (2) they don’t. Hospitals with tracking systems are at an advantage with regards to having their data in an electronic format, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to achieve data accuracy due to the antiquated infrastructure of market-leading tracking systems. For example, many of today’s tracking systems allow you to have multiple entries for the exact same instrument (ten different entries for the same manufacturer and part number, but each entry represents a different description). If you want to consolidate those ten different entries into one, it has to be done manually. Seems a bit antiquated considering tracking systems are software companies that are supposed to promote technology and automation, right? For hospitals without tracking systems however, simply installing a market-leading tracking system unfortunately won’t help due to these inherent defects in the software itself.

Without a doubt, the amount of data hospitals rely on to prepare for surgery is massive. Because of this, it is unsustainable and unreasonable to believe that people alone are able to achieve accurate data due to the complexity, growth of inventory, and process in which changes are being made. Instrument tracking systems are great for recording actions and inputs, but market-leaders have failed to build software that enables hospitals to achieve and sustain accurate data.

Now that we have a clear understanding for how data impacts the efficiency and quality of surgical devices, and also recognize that achieving accurate data cannot be accomplished by people or tracking systems alone, it’s important to accept these fundamental flaws as facts.  Only then can departments begin to take ownership in seeking and adopting sustainable solutions to overcome the hurdles caused by misunderstood and mismanaged data.


Written by Stephen Wanecke, Director of Client Initiatives, Ascendco Health