Patient Safety – It takes a Village

Professionals in Sterile Processing (SP), the Operating Room (OR) and Infection Preventionists (IP) are mostly focused on their particular role in patient care. They infrequently communicate with each other, unless of course there is a question or concern regarding a patient or an instrument set. However, it is extremely important that these professionals work together proactively, not just reactively after a questionable incident. The health and safety of an estimated 160,000–300,000 patients in the United States is at risk annually for the most common health-care acquired infection, surgical site (SSI).1  SP, OR and IPs must work as partners in this universal fight against SSIs.

Healthcare facilities are experiencing increased scrutiny from regulatory agencies (e.g., the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Joint Commission) regarding the need for process improvements and reduction of risks to patients. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration have sent warning letters regarding the need for “Healthcare Facilities to Review Procedures for Cleaning, Disinfecting, and Sterilizing Reusable Medical Devices”.2 Increased technology, in depth research relating to SSIs, as well as, the fact that most healthcare facilities are operating on a razor thin margin, are very compiling reasons why now more than ever, SP, OR and IPs must work together to reduce preventable risks for patients.

SP, OR and IP’s profession organizational mission and values stress the importance of safe patient care, and of course that is not possible without collaboration.

IAHCSMM To promote patient safety worldwide by raising the level of expertise and recognition for those in the Central Service profession.

Through international collaboration and organizational excellence, IAHCSMM will be the leading association for education and certification for the Central Service profession, thereby improving patient safety and meeting the needs of the healthcare environment.3

AORN To promote safety and optimal outcomes for patients undergoing operative and other invasive procedures by providing practice support and professional development opportunities to perioperative nurses.  AORN will collaborate with professional and regulatory organizations, industry leaders, and other health care partners who support their mission.” 4
APIC To create a safer world through prevention of infection. Vision – Healthcare without infection.5

Shouldn’t the mission/vision of the SP, OR and IP within each facility match the professional organizations emphasis on patient safety through collaboration? I believe healthcare facilities should take the lead of these professional organizations to facilitate SP, OR and IP to work closer together to improve the care given to patients.

Some of the aggravation or stumbling blocks between the departments are that they do not really understand each other’s role, there is a lack of knowledge of current standards and guidelines and the out of date, often abused viewpoint that “We have always done it that way”.  We must throw out that attitude by knowing, understanding and following the current evidence based guidelines and standards intended to keep patients and staff safe.

I encourage all SP professionals to think about what current issue or concern may be placing their patients at risk for an infection in their organization and initiate a multidisciplinary risk assessment with their colleagues in the OR and IP to address that issue(s). After all, it takes a village to keep our patients and staff safe.


  1. Stobinski, J. Certification: A New Way to Fight SSI.2/22, 2017.  Available at:  Accessed 4/21/2018
  2. CDC and FDA Alert Sept. 11, 2015. Available at: Accessed 5/19/2019
President/CEO Seavey Healthcare Consulting, LLC 

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