Automation, Advanced Technology, and Sustainability

What will sterile processing departments (SPDs) look like in the future? How will rapidly advancing technology change training, structure, and processes? It’s hard to tell how quickly new technologies will be implemented, but here are some ideas of what may be coming.

Automation and robotics

Hospitals are increasingly adopting automation and robotics in sterile processing to improve efficiency and reduce the risk of human error. Robotic systems can assist with tasks such as loading trays into cleaning systems, delivering chemistries to cleaning equipment, sterilization, and packaging. These technologies can standardize processes and ensure consistency.

Advanced sterilization methods

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has called for innovations in sterilization procedures to reduce the use of ethylene oxide, a hazardous air pollutant. This will contribute to advances in sterilization methods. Hospitals may adopt newer sterilization techniques, such as vaporized hydrogen peroxide and low-temperature hydrogen peroxide gas plasma. These methods can sterilize delicate medical instruments and devices that are sensitive to high temperatures and moisture.

Data integration and traceability

With the rapid development of artificial intelligence, hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers are likely to focus on better integration of data and technology to track instruments and record information needed for regulatory compliance. This can ensure instruments are properly cleaned, sterilized, and maintained, and that the correct instruments are prepared and delivered to the operating room on time. Upgrading technology also allows technicians to immediately access instructions for use (IFUs) for each instrument or piece of equipment. Augmented reality could show a technician the IFU for any instrument they look at or highlight the parts that need to be dismantled before cleaning.

Infection control and prevention

The increased focus on infection control and preventing healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, will continue. Hospitals will invest in innovative ideas and measures to minimize infection risk in the SPD and throughout the facility.

Regulatory compliance

Hospitals will need to stay up to date with evolving regulations and standards related to sterile processing. AI will be integrated to ensure personnel are aware of new regulations and trained on meeting them. Compliance with guidelines set by organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA will remain a priority.

Training and certification

Constantly evolving technology means sterile processing staff will need ongoing training and certification to keep up with new regulations, best practices, and new equipment and instruments. Virtual reality may be employed to improve training without risking patients’ health or lives. Technicians might retain new information and procedures better when virtually cleaning a new instrument or going through the motions of a new procedure rather than simply reading about it.

Single-use instruments

The use of single-use or disposable instruments is becoming more common in certain medical procedures, reducing the need for traditional sterile processing and chances of the patient getting an HAI.

Sustainability and eco-friendly practices

Across the board, companies are increasingly concerned about environmental sustainability, and hospitals are no exception. The future of sterile processing may involve more environmentally friendly practices, such as the use of reusable containers, reducing printed materials, and adopting less toxic, greener sterilization methods.

As with many industries, the future of healthcare, and specifically sterile processing, is likely to include increased automation, advanced technologies, more environmentally friendly sterilization methods, data integration, sustainability practices, and a continued focus on infection control. These ideas aim to enhance patient safety and the overall efficiency of healthcare services while maintaining the highest standards of sterile processing.