Hospital monitoring equipment plays a central role in the day-to-day working of any facility, so ensuring that this equipment is accurate through regular testing and calibration is a vital part of patient care. In this guest post, Andrew Teasdale, principal systems engineer at a designer and manufacturer of electrical test equipment, reviews how hospitals should approach maintenance to improve efficiency.
We all know the disastrous results of faulty or inaccurate equipment: problems with patients can be missed or misread, and costly inquiries can ensue.
In fact, a British Medical Journal study found that one in four operating room errors are due to equipment problems – errors which could be avoided by simple device checks before surgery.
If hospital managers approach this maintenance task in the right way, they can not only avoid crises caused by equipment failure, but actually improve the efficiency of their facility, too.
So where do you start?
A simple rule is that equipment should be tested at least once a year. There’s currently no legislation setting this as a requirement, but it will mean that hospitals can routinely meet International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards.
It’s also worth knowing what testing equipment is out there. For example, electrical safety analyzers can test high volumes of medical and laboratory equipment which don’t require patient lead testing, such as beds, hoists, infusion pumps, CPAPs and centrifuges.
Patient simulators, which mimic vital signs – such as heart-rate, body temperature, blood pressure and respiration – test patient monitors. They plug directly into monitoring equipment and, through electrical signals, simulate various types of vital signs from arrhythmias to ECGs.
All of these tests can be performed relatively quickly by in-house engineers, independent service operators or by the manufacturer’s own service engineers under the hospital’s contract.
Know your equipment
Which of your monitors are decades old? Are there any areas that are underfunded? There’s a wide range in the type of equipment out there. Some healthcare facilities can invest in the latest technology, whereas others have to rely on legacy systems.
Neither approach is necessarily right or wrong, as long as the quality of patient care is protected. Engineers, doctors and nurses will also know that each piece of electrical equipment has its own quirks – and sometimes you need to ‘have the knack’ for it.
But if managers know where the potential equipment blind-spots are, then you can alter your testing schedules accordingly. Good electrical safety analyzers and patient simulators will be compatible with most equipment out there. Plus, in-house and external engineers are experts in their field and should be able to advise healthcare executives on when equipment needs to be replaced.
The good news for hospital executives is that patient simulators and other testing technology are at their most advanced ever – which is changing managers’ approach to testing. The key things to look out for when testing are ease of use and battery life.
Market leading test devices are accessible and easy to use, meaning engineers can save minutes on every test – which over the course of a year can really rack up. The latest devices should also be rechargeable, which has clear benefits in that you don’t have to dispose of 9V batteries every week or two.
What does the future hold for monitor testing? Hopefully in the future, testing of hospital equipment will be more connected, meaning that tests can be done quicker and results uploaded into digital systems.
But until then, at least healthcare professionals can have some peace of mind that, by regularly testing equipment, they can ensure patient safety.
Andrew Teasdale is principal systems engineer at Rigel Medical, a designer and manufacturer of electrical test equipment.