Educating staff is critical piece

Staff need a thorough understanding of the principles of decontamination and sterilization to perform flash sterilization properly, says Ramona Conner, RN, MSN, CNOR, perioperative nursing specialist at the Center for Nursing Practice at the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN).

"Every person who has anything to do with any portion of the sterilization process should be educated or trained at hire and periodically to validate competency in operating specific equipment and sterilizing instruments used in that facility," she says.

In addition to the basic principles, staff members need to understand how the equipment operates and which parameters are standard. They need to know when to use different parameters than the routine, so they also need to understand the requirements of sterilization for the specific devices, Conner says. One example is orthopedic powered instruments, she says. "Sometimes they need extended cycle times or dry times even if they're flash sterilized."

Sterilization is much more complicated than 20 years ago, when shorter cycle times were used, reports Stephen M. Kovach, director of education at Saint Claire Shore, MI-based Healthmark Industries, which offers products for sterilization, decontamination, storage, and security of medical equipment and supplies. "Now with the complexity of instruments, those cycle times might not be adequate," Kovach says.

Staff need to be educated by the instrument manufacturers and the sterilizer manufacturers, he emphasizes. "It's not just flipping a button," he says. There should be an annual orientation and annual competency on how to work the flash sterilizer, Kovach says. "Anyone who can use it should have a competency," he says. (An example of a competency form is available with the on-line version of SDS).