One Book to Rule Them All: 5 Creative Ways to Read the AAMI Standards and Not Get Bored



There's a running joke in literary circles about books that few people have ever read, but every one pretends to  -- books like Moby Dick, War and Peace, Atlas Shrugged, and Les Misérables. One reason few of us have ventured to complete these reads is that the books themselves are MASSIVE, and, some may argue, at times, a little...um...boring. 


But what about the books we need to do our jobs as Sterile Processing professionals? How many leaders or technicians do you know who have actually read the entire ANSI/AAMI ST79 from cover to cover (including annexes)? The figures would probably be surprisingly low for an industry as highly regulated and high tech as Central Sterile Service. 


Why is this the case? And how can we prompt our own Sterile Processing technical renaissance in healthcare at large? Let's address these issues one at a time.


Dust on the Standards

It appears the days of the door-to-door encyclopedia salesman are now behind us as Wikipedia and other online search engines replace the need for large numbers of heavy reference books on our shelves. Nowadays, those of us who still own an encyclopedia set probably spend more time dusting them than actually reading them.


As a reference text, the ANSI/AAMI ST79 can unfortunately share a similar fate on the shelves of  many Sterile Processing departments. The standards themselves are not written to be a riveting read, with plot twists and character arcs, like a J.R. Tolkien novel or one of the Harry Potter books. Instead, they were composed to communicate technical recommendations and best practices to an industry awash in complexity and regulation. 


The impact of this dynamic often means that we only go to the ANSI/AAMI ST79 when we have a specific problem or are preparing for a specific conversation with a Joint Commission or CMS surveyor. Although we can gain insight and information about these particular issues by reading this way, we can also miss the broader meta-narrative of the text when we treat it like a buffet rather than a five-course meal. What does chapter 10 have to do with chapter 12? Where are all the recommendations located that reference indicator protocol? Apart from a holistic understanding of the standards, you'd be hard-pressed to lead with the kind of technical competence demanded of a Sterile Processing professional.


Let the Pages Speak

So you understand the need, but what's the solution? Here are five creative ways to read through the entire AAMI standards and (hopefully) not get bored!


1) A Chapter a Day Keeps JCo Away

As the old saying goes, the best way to eat an elephant . . . is one bite at a time. The same can be said for tackling the AAMI standards without getting overwhelmed by the sheer volume of technical know-how crammed in its pages. Don't try to boil the ocean here. Set aside a little time every day to sharpen your sterile processing senses. If a chapter is too large of a time commitment, start with subsections. The key here is cultivating discipline. I promise you will not have to do this long to realize the benefit of having fresh knowledge bouncing around your head as you deal with the pressing CS issues of your day.


2) Integrate the Standards into Daily Department Life


Now that  you will be daily brimming with new tidbits of Sterile Processing knowledge, begin to integrate this into the warp and woof of your department's life. Ask your supervisors to share a particular AAMI recommendation during their daily shift huddles and invite discussion among the team. Dedicate a section of every weekly staff meeting to highlight something applicable you've read throughout the week and talk about why this is important for your department. The goal here is to move this information from the dusty shelves of the back office to the forefront of our technician's minds -- where it should be.


3) Keep a Reading/To-Do List Journal

"Now he wants me to journal AND read?!" Now just hang with me here. We're trying to keep this AAMI adventure exciting, remember? As you are reading in these bite-size chunks and weaving the information into the fabric of your department's life, do yourself a favor and keep a reading/to-do list journal at your side. If you're like me, you won't have to read very far before a thought or two pops into your head about this procedure you want to change or that inservice you want to schedule. Rather than isolating your reading time for mere knowledge intake, plan on also using it as a time of information application. Only you know the particular challenges of your facility and workflow, so take time as you read to journal how these standards can or should impact how you do your job. 


4) Commit to Read as a Leadership Team

Whether you have multiple managers, supervisors, and coordinators who report to you, or you are the sole CS leader in your facility, gather up a core group and commit to reading ST79 as a leadership team. Pick a time once a week to meet and review the next chapter or subsection. If you want, each of you can alternate giving a mini-presentation each week on particular sections before having a round table discussion of the issues. Not only will this help keep you accountable in reading the material, but it will also be a great spur to your team's pursuit of broader technical expertise as CS leaders. 


5) Create a local/regional "AAMI ST79 Reading Challenge"

You've heard it said that it takes a village to raise a child. I would argue that it takes a village to read the standards. Not only was ST79 crafted by a diverse group of Sterile Processing and healthcare leaders across the country, but that's also the best way to read them! Why not get your local or regional Sterile Processing organization to do a monthly conference call where you all get on the phone and talk through one chapter per month of ST79 -- inviting feedback and comments on each recommendation. Approaching the standards in this way would allow for the kind of community interpretation that they were meant to have, and it will give outlet to the stories, tips, and testimonials that we all bring to the table through our individual years of Sterile Processing experience.


However you do it, you out to your patients and your own professional growth to better understand these documents (and others like them). So, why not use the new year in 2020 to grab yourself a copy, buckle up, and get this renaissance started...


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Hank Balch


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