The operations of a sterile services department usually consist of the cleaning, disinfection, and sterilization of reusable medical equipment. Reusable medical equipment, or RME, can consist of any medical equipment from stainless steel surgical instrumentation, to IV pumps and crash carts. RME is separated into three classes: non-critical, semi-critical, and critical, with each class requiring a minimum level of reprocessing.
Non-critical items, such as IV poles and pumps, require a minimum of intermediate level disinfection which can be accomplished with most hospital disinfectants.
Semi-critical items are items that are expected to have contact with what an intact mucous membrane, and normally consists of endoscopes like those used in colonoscopies. These items require high level disinfectants such as glutaraldehyde solution, peracetic acid, or hydrogen peroxide plasma.
Critical items, which include any instrument which will be introduced into a patient blood stream or in a normally sterile area of the body, require sterilization.