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Don't Confuse Throughput with Productivity In Sterile Processing

Updated: Apr 25

Throughput is the amount of material or items passing through a system or process. Whereas productivity is the effectiveness of a productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in the output rate per unit of input.

Evolved Sterile Processing - Thought of the Week


We often hear the throughput of a department discussed as productivity. SPD managers will cite the number of trays, etc., as a productivity metric. The one lacking piece of the puzzle is input. Tracking your output can help measure the percentage volume of production issues or total volume produced, but it does not measure productivity.


On the other hand, productivity measures throughput by calculating output/input. SPD managers may be subject to the productivity metric of total worked hours/trays produced. As a benchmark, the lower the total number of hours worked for the output (trays) equals a better productivity ratio.

Productivity in Sterile Processing

The main issue in SPD for measuring productivity as a benchmark is that not one SPD is like another. There is only one constant measurement, instruments. If you are benchmarked against anything else, you are already in a losing battle. There are too many variables in other outputs.

Measuring Productivity in Sterile Processing

Often, there is pushback when asked if Sterile Processing should measure productivity. The number one reason is that rushing staff can cause quality issues. We would agree with that statement. But, equating productivity to rushing someone is a bit unfair. Productivity is an expected outcome for a specific input. In the case of instruments, we can expect the staff in SPD to be able to safely clean, inspect, or test instruments in a specified amount of time. By doing so, we can measure the productivity output of an individual. However, placing a tray expectation can create an unsafe condition or a lower-than-expected output.


When measuring instruments as your productivity metric, you have to consider variables. Just as equipment issues can affect throughput in a department, other production issues can affect productivity. Here are some of them:

  • instrument migration in sets (probably the #1 issue in SPD)

  • poor decontamination practices (whether in the OR or SPD)

  • poor workstation setups (including inadequate inspection tools)

  • poor workflow

Depending upon your department's unique issues, you will need to buffer your productivity metric. Considering data suggest that the average person is only productive for about three to six hours a day.

Final Tally

It is a financial disservice to your company not to be measuring productivity. There is value in the output. The better your productivity is, the more valuable your department becomes for taking care of your patients. Quality is the final measuring tool. It would be best if you had both productivity and quality output. By beginning to measure productivity and by developing it into a constant metric, you can work to find the sweet spot in your production model.

At Evolved Sterile Processing, our consultants have a greater focus on sterile processing. With our decades of experience, we will help you develop better processes and educational resources for your staff.

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