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    How hospitals use microbiology to help reduce the risk of infections during your procedure


    Clinician with gloved hand selects surgical instrument from tray.

    • When patients head to the hospital for a procedure or surgery, they may take for granted all the steps health care facilities put in place to make sure the medical instruments to be used have been thoroughly cleaned and sterilized.

      Healthcare facilities’ objective is to minimize the risk to patients of surgical site infections by destroying microorganisms on the devices before they are reused.

    • Close-up view of biological indicators in tray.
      • Trained staff members in a hospital’s sterile processing department play the important role of helping to combat healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) in patients by putting reusable surgical devices through a rigorous “reprocessing” procedure – a detailed, multistep process to clean and sterilize the instruments.
      • Adequate reprocessing of reusable medical devices is vital to protecting patient safety, says the FDA. And sterilization is a fundamental step in a hospital’s effort to keep HAIs in check. By killing microorganisms, sterilization helps ensure no harmful pathogens that can cause infections are transferred from one patient to another.1
      • But it’s not a one-size-fits-all process – different medical devices have different procedures from the device manufacturer that need to be strictly followed. Devices made of stainless steel typically use high-temperature steam sterilization. Heat- and moisture-sensitive items – including flexible endoscopes – typically use a low-temperature sterilization technology, like ethylene oxide and hydrogen peroxide.
      • No matter which sterilization method is used, sterile processing teams need confidence that any microorganisms contaminating instruments are killed.
      • But how do they know whether the sterilization process was effective?

    • Lab worker with gloved hands holds up 3M biological indicators to view results.

      Enter biological indicators

      • Biological indicators (BIs) are an integral part of the sterilization quality control process. They provide direct evidence that the sterilization process conditions are sufficient to kill the most resistant bacteria. Here’s how they work:
      • BIs contain bacterial spores – a form of bacteria that have thick outer walls, which help them survive in hostile environments. Not all microorganisms form spores, but for those that do, in the spore state, the organism is much more resistant to disinfection and sterilization.
      • A large population of these resistant spores get encapsulated into a self-contained BI  – or a capped plastic sleeve – which is added to the sterilization cycle along with the surgical instruments.
      • The theory behind the BI? If the sterilization process is effective enough to kill a large population of highly resistant spores, it likely also will kill a lower number of less resistant organisms on the medical devices. So, the process is not checking cycle temperature and times, it’s verifying that the conditions were adequate to be lethal to resistant microorganisms. And that’s the evidence needed to know whether the sterilization cycle was successful.

    • From 7 days to 24 minutes – how 3M has reduced readout times from 1970s to 2000s

      Today, sterile processing teams are able to get results in under 30 minutes for steam and vaporized hydrogen peroxide (VH202) sterilization cycles. But that certainly has not always been the case. See how 3M Science has helped reduce readout times (PDF, 593.74 KB) for BI results since the 1970s.

    Immeasurable impact

    • Faster BI results can have an enormous impact by having surgical tools more readily available. But the biggest impact on patient safety is that using biological indicators to monitor every load can reduce the risk of sterilization failures and help improve the standard of patient care.

      3M scientists continue to work with healthcare providers to get innovations like these out the door to help improve patient outcomes decade after decade.

      1. How are Reusable Medical Devices Reprocessed, U.S. Food & Drug Administration

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