Your sterile processing department might be buried in the dark and dank sub-basement, but it soon might get a high-tech makeover that will make it look more like Silicon Valley than a back alley. Some of the advances we'll highlight are still a twinkle in some engineer's eye, but others have already been unveiled in select reprocessing rooms around the globe. Here's a look at what's coming.
For generations of reprocessing professionals, the best we could do to ensure lumens and cannulas were adequately cleaned was to trust the cleaning process. We encouraged visual inspection, but there were limits. It was impossible to see inside an Andrews suction or the handle on an arthroscopic shaver. In a few years, it will be routine for reprocessing technicians to inspect the internal channels of flexible endoscopes with small-diameter borescopes, ensuring there is no cleaning residue, moisture, brush bristles or damage that could harbor microbes. With tabletop microscopes, we'll be able to examine micro-instruments under the same level of magnification as they use on the sterile field. With these visualization technologies, microbes will have nowhere left to hide.
As micro-technology continues to make the world around us smaller and smaller, the impact will also be felt in reprocessing space. Many surgical instruments with historical cleaning challenges, such as large-diameter endoscopes, could be replaced with camera-pill technology that would let patients pick up a capsule at their local pharmacy, turn on a recording device and a few hours later retrieve the device to send in for physician review. No reprocessing needed. No 120 manual cleaning steps. No chance of hospital-acquired infection. Much rejoicing from reprocessing technicians who could use that time to focus on other quality issues in their department. It's a win, win, win.