3 Ways Big Data Will Ensure your Sterile Processing Department is Part of the Digital Transformation

How can big data position your sterile processing department to intercept the predicted spending lanes of 2017 and be a part of the solution? Here are 3 examples that align with expressed areas of focus by 20 of our nations largest healthcare delivery systems.

This past week thousands of healthcare leaders converged in San Francisco for the JP Morgan 35th annual healthcare conference to gain strategic perspective around effectively navigating the future of our $3 trillion U.S. healthcare industry. Dan Michelson, the CEO of Strata Decision Technology, highlighted some key areas of focus after “CEOs and CFOs of over 20 of our nation’s largest healthcare delivery systems presented their strategic plans in rapid fire 25-minute presentations.” A few key areas are:

  • The need to invest in process improvement teams that can help to better manage profit margins
  • Increase value based contracting
  • Analysis of data from current software systems like Electronic Health Records to help drive out costs and improve outcomes

Sterile processing departments can and should be instrumental in driving the kind of efficiency gains being discussed at the JP Morgan conference. Sometimes overlooked and often underestimated, they operate at a complex intersection of data & communication from the operating room, device suppliers, equipment, supply chain, and more.

The ability to make high impact decisions to drive efficiency while increasing the quality of care in such a complex environment is not easy. However, decision-making can be greatly enhanced with the help of big data analytics, and should be top of mind for those preparing for a more accountable digital age.

1. Be in Command of Your Spending

Big Data Insights can help you completely understand your current costs so you can predict future spend and determine the highest impact areas to reduce spending. Imagine having total asset realization across the spectrum of suppliers that make up your inventory and being able to communicate the total size and dollar value of your owned and consigned trays.

Couple this information with procedural case volume and you’ll have solid data to justify current budgets as well as future needs in a manner that cannot be disputed. Another example, as suggested by Hank Balch in one of his excellent articles, would be to justify staffing budgets based on an actual productivity value formula for each employee. A well-designed big data platform can make those kinds of insights available at the press of a button. Data has so many uses and when properly harnessed it becomes a simple matter of asking the right questions.

2. Elevate your alignment with the Operating Room

Recently, I sat alongside an operating room conversation where several nurses discussed the best way to decrease the number of instruments taken into the operating room for some of their high volume Neurology cases. Having seen so many surgeries, they had a gut feeling that merging two of their high volume trays would actually decrease instrument flow, and they put in a request for sterile processing to do just that.

Powered by big data analytics, the sterile processing department was able to determine that the tray merger would actually increase instrument flow by over 50,000 instruments per year. However, the nursing staff had pointed out an area of the surgical tray architecture that was in need of optimization. The SPD leadership was able to gather more info, and with the help of big data analytics, was able to make tray changes resulting in increased operating room efficiency, reduced instrument flow of over 20,000 instruments per year, and a more than satisfied surgical team.

3. Start with Useful Data

Incoming physicians are generally not included in the preparation of their surgical instrumentation and preparation rarely takes place in a proactive setting. In most cases new physician shows up a week or so before their initial surgery, quickly scan the surgical tray being offered for their highest volume cases, and offer recommendations. The requests range from a few generic needs to finding a specific scissor forged by Gerhart the craftsman in a garage somewhere in the Black Forest of Germany.

Regardless, the bells of urgency sound, sales representatives phones siren, and the process to beat the clock and be ready for scheduled surgical cases has begun. This is a perfect example of a reactive and manual process in need of digital transformation. For example, why not proactively send out an intelligent instrument survey allowing the incoming surgeon(s) to review and adjust the instruments that will be made available for them.

Automating this process is not only a proper welcome from sterile processing leadership, but enables your department to retain valuable information about which surgeon’s have requested specific instruments. This way when a physician leaves or retires, so can the instruments in the inventory that are there specifically to support them.

The way surgical instruments are purchased and managed has an impact on profit margins and most importantly impacts patient outcomes. Now is the time to build a community around the people and systems responsible for ensuring the right instruments are always ready and available for surgery. A community focused on the opportunities to use big data and the digital transformation of our critical sterile processing departments. Together we can make strides towards operational excellence where we drive downs costs, improve outcomes, and ensure sterile processing has a place at the table with our industry leaders.

Welsh Harris