The sterilization of medical equipment is extremely vital in hospitals. It's not just for the patients who come in with lowered immune systems and are exposed to possible contaminants due to their contact with bandages, medical devices, surgical tools, etc. The medical safety of the people who work in the hospital is paramount to ensure that they can continue to serve the patients to the best of their ability. Moreover, proper hygiene is directly related to a health facility's reputation. To achieve the level of cleanliness and hygiene required, health facilities need to do more than just high-level disinfection on their medical equipment. In certain instances, a medical grade disinfectant just won’t cut it; sterilization is the only way.
Advantages of Sterilizing Medical Equipment
The main advantage of sterilizing medical equipment is that it eliminates the spread of infections. When a medical device or surgical instrument comes into contact with a patient's sterile tissue or mucous membranes, pathogenic microbes can contaminate it. The risk of infection to patients and hospital staff increases. With sterilization, all forms of microbial life on medical equipment is destroyed. Any foreign particles, blood, pus, and dirt on medical equipment is eliminated. The number of non-sterilized bacteria that is still living on a surface after disinfection will be decreased. The breeding ground for surviving germs is removed. Moreover, medical equipment sterilization ensures the safe use of invasive and non-invasive medical devices and instruments.
How to Sterilize Medical Equipment
Cleaning medical instruments is not the same as the sterilization of medical equipment. But it needs to be done before you can sterilize equipment. The steps on how to sterilize medical instruments are pretty simple and can ensure that these tools can be safe to use in any medical situation.
Take time for Decontamination before Sterilization
It's important that used instruments are collected and removed from where they were used and taken to a decontamination area. It doesn't matter what is used to sterilize medical instruments or that it takes time to take this step. It's an important one that can't be skipped. This is because it reduces the likelihood of the instruments spreading contamination in other areas, surfaces, and medical equipment. Make sure that the equipment is covered while being transferred.
Once transferred, you should make sure you are wearing protective clothing suitable for handling contaminated instruments. This includes scrubs or a type of moisture-resistant clothing, gloves (plastic or rubber), shoe covers, and hair covering. Protective goggles may be required if there is a chance that a substance will splatter during decontamination.
Cleaning the instruments is essential before the process of sterilization can be performed. This means removing debris, organic or inorganic, from medical equipment immediately after use. Without proper cleaning, using these instruments can affect the health of the patient. To clean an instrument, you can soak them or scrub them and then wash the instruments under pressured water.
Preparing instruments for the Autoclave
Before you can start medical tool sterilization, each instrument must be inspected carefully to check if it's clean. After inspection, the instruments need to be organized based on what they are used for and where they will be used. After the instruments have been sorted, they need to be placed inside sterilized pouches before being put in the autoclave. These pouches are specially designed to withstand high temperatures and features a strip of test tape that will change color if the process is effective. Sorting out the instruments and wrapping them up for distribution prior to the autoclaving process will prevent the contamination of instruments that are already sterilized. Once all the instruments have been packed into pouches, label each one. Include the names of the instruments, the date, and your initials.
Sterilizing the equipment in an Autoclave
An autoclave machine is mostly a surgical instrument sterilizer. It uses high temperature to create steam released under high pressure to clean a lot of medical equipment. Using an autoclave is usually the safest method as well as the most cost-effective. Autoclaves feature different settings which includes different time, temperature, and pressure. Place the instruments onto the trays that can be stacked inside the machine. The trays should be stacked 1-inch apart and not overloaded. Make sure that the instruments are set apart from each other to enable the steam to circulate and properly sterilize them. Let the autoclave machine run and finish the drying cycle before checking the pouches inside using sterile tongs. Look at the test tape and check if it has changed color based on the manufacturer's guidelines. If the right color is present, that means that the instruments have been exposed to 250 degrees Fahrenheit or higher and are considered sterilized. If not, then the instruments need to undergo another autoclaving process.
While the autoclaving process is the most commonly method to sterilize equipment, there are other methods you can use. Dry heat sterilization is suitable for materials that can be destroyed steam or cannot be penetrated by it. Chemical sterilization is another option. This method utilizes prepared chemical solutions such as ethylene oxide and bleach. Plasma gas sterilization utilizes low temp hydrogen peroxide-based gas plasma to kill microorganisms such as spores, fungi, and bacteria on dental and medical equipment.
Cleaning Sterilization Accessories
There are different accessories available in the market utilized during the sterilization of medical equipment. We describe some of the most widely used in the health industry.
Sklar Kleen Low Foam Detergent
Prior to sterilizing medical equipment, it must be first cleaned. Sklar Kleen Low Foam Detergent is a cleaning accessory that can be used on surgical tools and other medical tools made of metal, rubber, plastic, and glassware. This foam detergent is safe to use and specifically designed to ensure the life of your tools and help maintain their performance.
Sklar Instruments Cannula Cleaning Brushes
The sterilization of medical instruments cannot be performed without the cleaning stage. These cannula cleaning brushes from Sklar are a great cleaning accessory for hospitals and specialty clinics. They are made of stainless steel and nylon which improves durability. These brushes are offered in different lengths. You can also obtain numerous quantities for your facility. These cannula cleaning brushes
Healthmark AWTK Washer Test Kits
Prior to medical instrument sterilization, you need to ensure the quality of your materials and cleaning accessories. The Healthmark AWTK Washer Test Kits include supplies that will help you determine the performance of three- or four-level automated washers as well as water quality and water temperature. Within each kit, you'll get a number of TempaChek Thermometers, TOSI Washer Tests, and AquaTest Water Strips that will enable you to test automated washers every week. Each box contains four Lab Washer Test Kits.
Healthmark 113 Medical Instrument Transport Carts
To sterilize medical equipment, you will first need to transport your instruments to the designated decontamination area. Healthmark offers transport carts that enable you to move contaminated instruments that are stored in SST-2136 Instrument Trays. The carts feature separate compartments, each one with a gasket-sealed, watertight door. This allows you to use the carts to transport sterilized and contaminated medical equipment safely without cross-contamination. The carts are made of a single piece of double-walled polyethylene which makes cleaning easy.
We’ve already mentioned that steam autoclaves are not the only medical sterilizer machine or method for sterilizing medical equipment. Choosing the right sterilization method is important if you want to ensure the safe use of medical equipment. Using the wrong method can prevent your medical equipment getting clearance from regulatory bodies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And that's the best case scenario. The worst case scenario is that inappropriate or inadequate sterilization can cause infectious diseases to be transmitted to one of the medical staff or a patient, leading to illness or death.
We’ve already touched upon the steps that need to be taken during an autoclaving process. But we have yet to discuss what it actually does. As mentioned earlier, steam autoclave is the most widely used method of sterilization due in part to its cost-effectiveness and to its safety. It is mostly used for surgical instruments sterilization. The autoclave machine produces steam inside a pressure chamber at a temperature of 121-148°C (250-300°F) and at 15 P.S.I. The length of a sterilization period will vary, depending on the temperature chosen and the amount of medical equipment within the machine. The typical range is 10 to 60 minutes. In order to be effective, steam must be able to penetrate the fiber of the material as well as reach all the surfaces of an item. After being exposed to steam, the condensed water is re-evaporated in order to dry the medical tools inside the machine. This maintains the sterility of the medical equipment.
There are different types of steam sterilization, one of which is gravity-displacement. This is when air from the chamber is removed by the steam entering it. This causes the steam to exert pressure on air and causes gravity displacement. Flash sterilization is the fastest type of steam sterilization, hence the name. This sterilization process runs from 3 to 10 minutes and uses 132°C saturated steam. The method is only used in hospital operating rooms where there is an urgent need for equipment.
Instrument sterilization can be performed using prepared chemical solutions such as ethylene oxide, bleach, ozone, and hydrogen peroxide. These solutions are capable of destroying a wide range of pathogens. However, the same solutions can be harmful to people. In order to perform this kind of sterilization, you will need to soak the medical equipment into the chemical solution for a certain period of time until the pathogens are killed. After sterilization is done, the equipment needs to be released and then left to dry. Take note that chemical sterilization is not ideal for biological materials, heat-sensitive materials, and fiber optics.
Sterilization by Dry Heat
Dry heat sterilization is ideal for instruments that can be destroyed by steam or those that cannot be penetrated by steam. This sterilization requires high temperatures, around 340 degrees Fahrenheit, and a lot of time. Because this is a slow technique, it cannot be used on many materials, though it is a reliable method for medical instrument cleaning.
Vaporized Hydrogen Peroxide
This utilizes a type of medical instrument sterilizer that uses hydrogen peroxide vapor. The sterilization process removes humidity from an enclosure and quickly injects VHP (vaporized hydrogen peroxide) until it reaches an ideal concentration that will sterilize the equipment. These vapors effectively remove microorganisms within the enclosure. Once the enclosure is sterilized, the generator of the machine breaks down the vapor into elements that are environmentally friendly. Because this process takes up a short period of time, one is able to sterilize a large volume batches of medical equipment.
This sterilization method utilizes low temperature hydrogen peroxide-based gas plasma to eliminate any microorganisms like spores, viruses, fungi, and bacteria inside a chamber. This method is used for disinfecting dental and medical equipment. The vaporized hydrogen peroxide is released into a chamber which sterilizes the enclosure. When the vapor is removed, it creates a plasma of a lower temperature which then sterilizes the rest of the equipment. This process is safe for the medical staff as well as the environment; only water and oxygen remain after sterilization is complete. It's an effective method for the sterilization of instruments that are sensitive to moisture. Take note that plasma gas sterilizers are costly, more so than other methods.
There are plenty of sterilization methods that can be used by medical staff in order to decontaminate medical equipment and ensure that they are safe to use. While steam autoclave is the most commonly used, there are alternatives that can be utilized by health facilities. The choice of which method to use will depend on the equipment that needs to be sterilized. There are also several different types and brands of sterilizing accessories that you can choose from. The important thing to note here is that sterilization is a process that cannot be ignored. It is essential to the safety and health of patients and medical staff as well as the facility's reputation.