Byte by Byte: A plan for processing

March 21, 2012
Noah Levine
Issue 8

Proper infection control and sterilization procedures are about a lot more than just patient and staff safety. Having an efficient sterilization process is critical to smooth practice operations. Having all the tools and instruments clean and ready when you need them takes planning and coordination. Without this, a practice might end up rushing the process in one way or another to get the needed tools to the operatory.

Proper infection control and sterilization procedures are about a lot more than just patient and staff safety. Having an efficient sterilization process is critical to smooth practice operations. Having all the tools and instruments clean and ready when you need them takes planning and coordination. Without this, a practice might end up rushing the process in one way or another to get the needed tools to the operatory.

But that should never happen. With proper planning, a practice can make sure its instrument inventory and sterilization capacity work together so everything is ready when needed. We recently spoke with John A. Molinari, Ph.D., Director of Infection Control at THE DENTAL ADVISOR about the keys to successful sterilization set ups.  

Q: What is the first thing a practice should evaluate when beginning to look at purchasing equipment for its sterilization needs?  
A: The first thing I think it should be looking at is amount of space available and needed for instrument processing and sterilization. There are a number of instrument processing steps that are required, and if a practice has enough space to sequentially process items, that can make the whole system more efficient and easier on the staff.

Q: Which comes first, a plan for IC and sterilization procedures or the equipment the practice will be using for this?  
A: I think you need to have the plan. Planning before purchasing is key and that can’t be emphasized enough.

Q: How do you know how much sterilization capacity a practice will need?  
A: You have to design this based on the volume of patient procedures performed, how many instruments are needed, whether or not cassettes will be used and where sterilized packs are going to be stored.

These considerations relating to the sterilization area go directly to design of the practice. One must have enough instruments, handpieces, and other items on hand to meet the needs of the practice. Otherwise assistants can be rushed to the point where inappropriate shortcuts occur. You have to follow your basic infection control procedures.   

Q: Are there any often overlooked details or factors practices should be sure to consider?
A: One major area is the amount of space available for this. Many practices used to have a small sink with a small counter space next to it, and they would have the dirty instruments on a tray and the cleaned instruments that have been sterilized in close proximity to each other. This type of situation just makes the whole process more cumbersome for the person doing it.

Q: For existing practices, are there different considerations when looking to either upgrade or replace the autoclave and/or other sterilization systems?
A: It can limit their options, especially when looking to purchase some of the new available products which have been designed to make instrument processing and sterilization more efficient.
Obviously, remodeling can be quite expensive and extensive, however, when it’s done, then the facility can better accommodate and use a variety of newer technologies such as instrument washers.

Q: How important is it to involve the staff when planning a practice’s sterilization set up?
A: That’s one of the interesting things about this. The assistants and hygienists need to be consulted in the planning, since the instrument reprocessing and much of the handling of instrument packs is done by personnel other than the dentist. They need a system and protocol that will allow them to function as efficiently as possible so everything that’s needed is ready for the patients.

An expanded version of this interview is available online at dentalproductsreport.com, and Dr. Molinari is available to answer further questions via THE DENTAL ADVISOR’s online Infection Control Corner.