Emergency medicine is constantly evolving, and new technologies and techniques are emerging all the time. With this bombardment of innovation, we sometimes see less value placed on basic skills, such as oral suctioning. As an EMS provider, you must adapt to new technologies and techniques but always fall back on your most basic skills.
Improving your oral suction technique starts with a desire to improve your skills, no matter how basic. Let’s discuss how you can improve basic suctioning skills despite the ever-changing nature of the EMS world today.
1. Participate in skills training.
We all know how important skills training is for developing and maintaining your skill set. This is especially true for suctioning techniques. What may seem like a mundane and easy task can result in potential harm and complications in your patient if you do not perform the task correctly and use the best techniques. Think of maintaining and improving your skills as just another aspect of your professional duty to your patients. Even if you perform suctioning frequently and feel you don’t require a refresher, think again. Everyone benefits from continuing education, even the most proficient provider.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in conjunction with the US Department of Health and Human Services, has developed effective national standards that include recommendations for continuing education for EMS professionals. Use these standards in your own practice to make sure you stay up to date with skills training.
2. Don’t go it alone.
The reality is that many adult patients you encounter will be either overweight or obese. This alone presents a challenge for airway management because positioning, mobility, and your ability to seal a mask may all be impeded. These factors make it difficult to ventilate and manage a patient’s airway on your own. Two providers are often better than one, especially when suctioning during and after the placement of an advanced airway device, such as an endotracheal tube. Being swift and efficient is key and having another person there to help makes a world of difference.
3. Master your equipment.
Prehospital and emergency providers often encounter airway emergencies involving large quantities of airway contaminants, such as vomit, blood, and mucus. These emergencies require swift and efficient suction units with large-bore or hyper-curved catheters specifically designed for these types of situations.
When you arrive at your patient’s side you will want complete proficiency and familiarity with your equipment. This may be a life-or-death situation for your patient, and you should know your equipment inside and out. You should also know how to perform the daily, weekly, and monthly maintenance on your various devices.
It’s vital that you master all your equipment—that which you use frequently as well as devices you use infrequently. It can be overwhelming and intimidating to master all this equipment—time and experience are factors that will help. This is where skills training comes into play again. If you haven’t used a piece of equipment in a while, you should refresh yourself on its use. Don’t let your basic skills fade over time, putting your patients at risk.
Be a lifelong learner in an evolving environment.
Prehospital and emergency care are constantly evolving, but fundamental skills remain a constant. Be a lifelong learner, always aiming to improve your craft. Remember that you are not alone. Use your partner or coworker in difficult airway-management situations. The next time your patient is faced with an airway emergency, you can expect the unexpected and still be prepared.