By Jim Fedele
The Joint Commission has increased its focus on disaster planning and emergency preparedness. Some biomeds may think this doesn’t apply to them. I would suggest every biomedical department become very familiar with disaster and emergency planning. I am suggesting, from a medical equipment management perspective, that we (the biomedical engineering department) should ensure our facilities have plans in place to address the medical equipment needs of the facility in the event of an emergency.
Arguably in today’s world of medicine, technology is the cornerstone. We have come to rely on technology for almost every aspect of medicine. One look in an ER room or an ICU and one can witness the amount of equipment needed and depended on. Sometimes there is barely enough room for the patient. What happens when this equipment is not available or does not work?
Biomedical technicians know first-hand how important technology is to our customers. I would guess just about everyone in this field has a story about a user/physician becoming unreasonable because a piece of equipment is not available or went down. Some of my brethren have stated they felt like the user was suggesting (or blaming) that the biomed had caused the device to break. This experience makes the biomedical technician the best resource for helping facilities develop good emergency/disaster plans.
Disaster planning is integral to hospital operations and is under continuous scrutiny by state and local officials. I feel comfortable stating that because of this oversight, on a large scale hospitals do a good job at planning and preparing for disasters. Hospitals are required to have documented drills and to follow up on all findings and deficiencies that are identified. But what about at the department level? For instance, what if the main monitoring system in the ICU goes down? Does the staff know what do? This were the biomedical department can really help.
Typically for a small emergency related to medical equipment, the biomedical staff is going to be involved on the front end. Obviously the department will page the on-call technician for immediate response. But what happens if there is a delay in response? Should the department know what to do next? Or what happens if the technician on call is not familiar with the equipment and cannot contact the specialist?
My experience is that when there are medical technology emergencies, the using staff is not so well versed on what to do. There always seem to be plans or procedures to implement, but they are seldom effective. The situation quickly degrades to a reactive, stressful and unsafe situation.
The real solution is to actually have drills that test the procedures and plans developed to handle these technology issues. It is only through drills that we can proactively identify any issues that may not have been identified initially. For instance, running equipment on emergency power may identify that the equipment is overly sensitive to emergency power and needs to be connected to a power conditioner. This is something that may not be foreseen when procedures are being developed. Also, by having the users experience first-hand how their department is going work with a disruption or lack of medical equipment assets, they will be better prepared to handle the situation.
Biomedical engineers should be involved with all aspects of this process. They possess the necessary experience and knowledge to be able to help formulate plans and design drills. The biomedical engineering tech will know where to acquire loaner equipment, or what can be effectively substituted, in the event of a critical monitoring system failure.
The best solution is to plan, drill and make changes. Everyone should be involved. This will help ensure everyone knows what to do in the event of an emergency.
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From Medical Dealer Magazine April 2012.
Jim Fedele, CBET has been writing for Medical Dealer Magazine for more then 12 years. He is currently Director of Clinical Engineering for Susquehanna Health Systems in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.