Portable suction is not utilized in the field on every call, and not on an everyday basis. However, when it is needed, it can make the difference between a patient that leaves the hospital and one who dies of aspiration pneumonia after a successful resuscitation.
You have decided that it is important to carry a portable suction unit, so naturally you want to select an effective product. Ask yourself the following questions during your selection process.
1. What type of battery power do you need?
You must be able to count on your equipment when you need it, and there are different types of reliable power sources available depending on how you intend to use suction in the field. Do you need a portable suction device that uses alkaline batteries so you can keep it in a bag and actively charging? If you prefer a wall-mounted device or require full-size suction with a larger canister, you might choose a device that uses rechargeable sealed lead acid batteries because you can easily keep them on charge.
2. Can the device be activated quickly?
You need a unit that can go for weeks without use, yet maintains a charge that enables the machine to achieve the desired suction levels within seconds.
3. Does the device have features that prevent mishaps?
Emergency medical responders work in hectic environments and need to be able to focus on patients, not equipment. Is there a tubing strap to ensure that all your supplies are readily available? Is the canister inside a holder that will protect it from the rigors of field use? Unless you have specific vacuum requirements for procedures and intend to dial in specific vacuum levels, consider a device with a two position ‘no look’ regulator.
4. How responsive is the device?
Controls that respond at the touch of a finger and at the slight turn of a knob can save precious seconds. Test the unit you are considering. Will the controls be easily functional in the field?
5. How long can the device run continuously?
Although the goal is to get patients to the hospital as quickly as possible, on-scene and transport time can vary considerably. You need to know that your portable suction device can last as long as you need it while getting the patient from the scene to the emergency room.
6. How portable is the unit?
Do you need a suction device that will fit in your “first in” bag? Is it light enough to move and carry in a busy and potentially dangerous environment?
7. Does suction power meet regulatory requirements?
What are the vacuum level requirements for your state, local area, and department? Do the devices that you are considering meet these specifications?
These are just some examples of the factors you must consider before buying an emergency portable suction device for your emergency medical service team. Start by evaluating the intended use of the equipment and then think about what trade-offs you are willing to make. Is a smaller, lightweight unit worth having a lower canister volume? Do you need a power source that is not rechargeable so you can keep the device in a bag?
Above all, make sure the device is rugged, effective and reliable.
No matter what scenario you need to accommodate, it’s important to find the portable suction device that best fits the potentially unique needs of your team. Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve needed portable emergency suction in the field, but the device you had on-hand didn’t fit the bill? Let us know in the comments.
Editor's note: This blog was originally from May 2015. It has been re-published with additional up to date content.