Improving how hospitals wash surgical instruments

Hospitals pay special attention to patient throughput, which is how patients cycle through the hospital’s resources. One variable that effects that throughput is the washing of reusable equipment, like surgical instruments. Design Central took a close look at that process while working with STERIS Corporation. The healthcare solutions company wanted to help hospitals introduce more efficiency into cleaning those instruments by offering an optimized washer that not only cleaned more thoroughly but lessened time-consuming gaps. Using front-end innovation, we worked alongside STERIS to offer ideas for streamlining and standing out from the crowd.

  • STERIS Corporation
  • Healthcare
  • Strategy
  • Research
  • Product Design

Objective: Offer ideas for visual and process improvement to move surgical instruments more efficiently through the wash cycle.

Design Central Discovery Process

Two main sections make up the cleaning center in a hospital. Instruments are first brought to the decontamination side to be rinsed and inserted into the washers on racks. Then, techs retrieve them from the clean side, where they’re sterilized, sorted and packaged for use. A row of washers divides the two sections, and our team was able to observe the process in order to spot where the user was being slowed down and ask questions that might inspire ideas. What kind of coverage are the sprayers inside providing, for instance? What feedback are the washers offering the techs related to status? What kinds of challenges are techs encountering during loading and unloading? This helped us narrow our focus.

Concepts help close time-consuming gaps

Our team identified three key areas with opportunities for improvement. First, during cleaning, the sprayer could be better positioned and designed for a more thorough wash. Second, the washer could offer better status updates throughout the cycle, including information on temperature plus lights and buzzers, to let those on both sides of the machine know when the instruments are clean. (That way, they could prep for the second step more efficiently.) Finally, we offered ideas for increased productivity related to servicing the machine, including unclogging it without having to call for help and optimizing the handling of hot racks. We provided sketch concepts that incorporated ways for STERIS to stand out in the crowded market, too.