Anticipate the future: Optimize your central sterilization supply department

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A mid-sized Belgian  hospital (420 beds)


Anticipate the impact of the coming changes in the hospital on the sterilization process, using simulation, in order to reorganize it efficiently.


Sterilization is critical for the key activities in the hospital. An efficient sterilization process will make the equipment faster available for surgery and other medical care activities.  The objective is to avoid unavailable sterile equipment which would lead to surgical operation delays with impacts on patients as well as on operational and financial levels of the hospital.

The hospital was going to open a few additional operating rooms. The managers were aware that this would highly impact the quantities of medical equipment to sterilize. However, they could not quantify the risks and therefore could not evaluate the needs of the department to cope with these changes. How many people should be hired? Should they buy new sterilization equipment?  And where in the process?

Thanks to the mathematical modeling and the simulation, it has been possible to reproduce the current operation of the sterilization together with the increase in activity caused by the opening of the new operating rooms and to identify the issues before they appear in the process. Then, an appropriate answer for the sterilization has been proposed and validated before the implementation of the changes in the hospital.



The study led by N-SIDE was performed in three steps.

1.  Process Auditing & modeling

The first step was to understand the sterilization process. Thanks to on-site visits, interviews and data collections conducted in close partnership with the sterilization team, the key elements of the analysis were identified. Then, a model exactly mapping the sterilization process was developed, validated by the department managers and implemented in a simulation software.

2.  Data analysis & model calibration

The second step was the data analysis and the calibration of the simulator in order to reproduce faithfully the current situation. The data analysis also brought to light some characteristics of the process that even the sterilization specialists were unaware of.

3.  Scenarios simulation

Finally, in the third step, N-SIDE’s team has build and simulated a series of scenarios that reproduced the anticipated increase in activity together with the organizational changes planned to face it. This work allowed to simulate and quantify the impacts of all changes that one could think of.  The different results were compared to take the optimal decisions.



This study has had several benefits for the hospital:

  • Process: The optimization of the sterilization process allowed to reduce the cycle time for washing & sterilizing stained equipments even with the increase in activity due to additional operating rooms.
  • Human Resources: The hiring of a new employee was avoided by showing that a better repartition of the existing staff between the tasks could absorb the increase in traffic and reduce the processing time of the stained equipment.
  • Investment: The simulation clearly identified the bottlenecks of the sterilization process and where additional equipment was mostly needed.  Moreover it quantified the benefits in processing time of each investment.
  • Operations: The causes for the variation of the activity during the week were clearly identified. Contrary to the sterilization manager’s belief, the carts of equipment from the consultations were responsible for the end of week peak activity more than the carts from the operating rooms.
  • Knowledge management:  Overall, the study brought a deeper quantitative knowledge of the sterilization process and of the quantities of sterile equipment used in the surgical unit for each type of intervention.

The hospital has then been able to take the appropriate measures to absorb in the best conditions the impact of the new operating rooms, mainly at the level of the sterilization but also upstream, with the other medical care services.

Discover the TV report realized by CanalC on March 13th, 2015 (in french)

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