Managing SPD Requires Critical Thinking Skills

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Sterile Processing Department (SPD) managers have multiple responsibilities with big impacts on their department, the facility and even more important the patients. Therefore, SPD leaders must have critical thinking skills founded on published evidence based guidelines, education and experience.

Critical thinking is disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence.  It also requires detailed development of ideas. Critical thinking managers are objective and do not believe, for example, that “what has worked in the past will always work in the future.” They search for the evidence as the decision-making process takes place. Critical thinking means keeping up with the profession and the current ever-changing standards. They rely only the best and most current information and understand some resources are more credible than others. SPD managers should have access to current copies of published standards and guidelines such as:

  • AAMI ST79 Comprehensive guide to steam sterilization and sterility assurance in health care facilities ANSI/AAMI ST79:2010 & A1:2010 &A2:2011 & A3:2012 &A4:2013
  • AAMI ST58:2013 Chemical sterilization and high-level disinfection in health care facilities
  • AAMI ST41:2008 (R2012) Ethylene Oxide Sterilization In Health Care Facilities: Safety And Effectiveness
  • AAMI ST91:2015 Flexible and semi-rigid endoscope processing in health care facilities
  • AORN Guidelines and Tools for Sterile Processing, 2015
  • AORN Guidelines for Perioperative Practices, 2016
  • CDC Guideline for Decontamination and Sterilization in Healthcare Facilities, 2008

Skillfully applied, critical thinking involves time spent in research, exploring different viewpoints, and carefully working through alternative scenarios.

Critical thinking skills require the use of learnable tools. As suggested above, the critical thinking process does not represent a “quick fix” solution; in fact, it can be a time-consuming undertaking. The best solutions are often arrived at when the knowledge and experience of a diverse team of concerned CS staff and, perhaps, others representing multidisciplinary stakeholder departments, and facilitated by a motivated CS manager address a challenge that requires a creative solution.

There are four basic steps to critical thinking:

  1. Look at a problem objectively and present it clearly and precisely.
  2. Research the problem by gathering and assessing relevant information.
  3. Think open-mindedly, accept, and explore alternative views.
  4. Communicate effectively with others while developing solutions to complex problems.

Once the solution has been decided upon with, the help of critical thinking steps, then routine decision-making can be implemented which includes: Define and clarify the proposed solution.

  • Gather the facts and try to understand their causes and impacts.
  • Generate possible options and alternate solutions.
  • Evaluate each option.
  • Select the best alternative.
  • Explain your decision to those involved and affected.
  • Plan the process or action steps for implementation.
  • Follow-up to ensure proper and effective implementation.
  • Reevaluate the new procedure/process to confirm it is successful or gather evidence that further problem-solving is required.

The ability of SPD managers to effectively use critical thinking skills helps to improve routine decision-making that can greatly improve how l their departments functions. Prudent SPD managers use critical decision-making skills and spend time researching current standards and guidelines prior to making decisions that impact their department, the facility and ultimately the patient.


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