What are SOPs and how do you start creating one?
Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are pretty common in practices now. Even if you aren’t part of the Practice Standards Scheme or a Training Practice you probably will have a system written down for various parts of the vet nurse role.
I recall an amusing addition to a Lab SOP from one of my early practices. It involved a letter to the Royal Mail specifying the labelling requirements for faecal samples and how to achieve the required packaging levels… it was quite blunt and to the point and it appeared there had been a poo explosion at some point in the past linked to the practice. I’ll never forget the required 3 layers of protection a biological sample needs! Hopefully, by using SOPs you will avoid the need for such letters from the authorities!
What is an SOP?
An SOP is a system for achieving various tasks that is written down and can be easily followed. They can be used for tasks that are carried out less frequently so you may not recall what to do easily – this might be working out the nutritional needs for a patient with a feeding tube or how to set the answer phone for Christmas opening hours.
Or they may be used for training or standardising the way certain skills are carried out. If you wish to extend their use they can be used as part of your record keeping and auditing paperwork too.
That’s quite a lot to consider when writing one and as it’s very likely to be an RVN that will be the author you might want to find out more about writing them.
SOPs are among the most common pieces of research that vet nurses produce, whether for a practice inspection or training new staff. If you’re not sure where to start then I’ve got a few blogs coming out on research and writing but for now let’s look at SOPs.
Templates and flowcharts – getting the right structure
There are various templates online to help you start these but they can be as individual as your practice and your team as this should be a reflection of the skills and equipment available to you. The BSAVA have some great guidance on SOPs, and even has the option of how to create a flowchart for tasks:
Picture credit bsava.com
You can use Word documents with tables or flow charts added or Excel spreadsheets that are easily printable. For non-clinical work you may like to see this US vet hospitals reception/client care version of an SOP. It’s simple, but effective and I think would be very helpful for those starting out on reception duties.
There’s also a nice template which gives space for your research to be noted – a very important factor in creating an SOP.
Because an SOP is only ever as good as the thought put into it, it’s a great opportunity to check if your protocols are up to date and review them. You might also look at who is trained in this area and is any CPD needed.
You may need to research a huge variety of topics regularly to keep these up to date and you will want to feel confident that the time has been well spent and you have the latest research or product information.
SOPs may mean you need to search academic research as well as government policies and legislation. This can be confusing and time-consuming. The important thing to remember is that an SOP is usually a short document and doesn’t need the full Harvard referencing required in assignments for college, which I hope is a little bit of relief for you. While you do need to keep a record of the information you found this can be in your own style as long as it is understandable by other people for future reference.
For referencing the information you find then copy and pasting the URL to a Word document is an easy option – but always include the title of the web page and subject area and do keep the date it was accessed. Things move on the web, and you need to make sure even if that URL doesn’t link you directly to it then with the web page title and subject area you can easily search again. For many SOPS the standard nursing textbooks are also worth checking and City and Guilds have a reading list for the Level 3 Diploma that can help.
This leads us to search the web. Is Google your best friend for this or do you need to search elsewhere?
The answer to this will be dependant on what topics you are searching and what you want to do. For clinical work, you may need to use the most up to date information and you need to be able to assess how good the data is too.
This all sounds complicated! I promise that I can make it more accessible and let you get the information you need. There will be more blogs on information literacy – how to find what you need and how to ensure what you find is what you need – if you see what I mean! It will all become clear! I promise!