Ask a Paramedic: What Features Do You Need in a Medical Suction Machine? 

As a paramedic, you have a lot of responsibility. You administer life-saving medications, restart damaged hearts, deliver squirming newborns, and manage mass casualty situations. And it’s not like you get to do all of this in the controlled setting of an emergency room. No, you are expected to function at three a.m. in the midst of a raging blizzard among the tangled wreckage of a ten-car pileup. It’s not an easy job.

So when it comes to your equipment, certain rigid standards must apply. The vital equipment employed by paramedics must be just as reliable as the medics themselves, for how effective can you be without the modern tools of your trade? Monitors must deliver the necessary joules, the glucometer must be accurate, and your capnography had better be functioning when your patient slips into cardiac arrest. And should that same patient vomit as you go to intubate their trachea, you had better have a portable suction unit that is ready to go!

You may not give your portable suction unit much thought on a daily basis. It’s one of those tools that are taken for granted – you simply expect it to function when needed. But let’s take a closer look at some of the features that every suction unit should have, because when it comes to clearing the airway, your most important tool had better measure up.

At the Ready

Paramedics only have two hands, and yet they are expected to tote every piece of equipment they may need at each emergency. Not a problem if you work in a large, metropolitan area with plenty of personnel and backup available. But what if you and your partner are the only medics on the landscape and your backup is a volunteer engine coming from ten miles out? That’s when portability really comes into play. As for your suction unit, it should be:

  • Lightweight and easy to carry
  • Small enough to fit into your airway bag
  • Powerful enough to tackle the most clogged of airways
  • Reliable enough to run as long as you need it
  • Durable enough to handle the most rugged of emergencies

Choose Carefully

When it comes to selecting your portable suction unit, all of the above factors impact your decision. Picture your day-to-day responses, the typical calls that frequent your 911 system. Here are a few variables that should be taken into consideration when choosing which type of suction unit will best serve your personnel:

  • Short versus long transport times: for long transports, be sure to have a unit with an efficient battery system. You may not have the advantage of a wall-mounted system, so be sure your portable unit is long-lasting and dependable. And extra batteries are always a good idea!

  • Rural vs. Urban: if your patients might be located off road or amidst challenging landscapes, a smaller, lighter portable suction unit would better suit your needs. Hauling a cumbersome suction unit up a mountainside is hardly an ideal situation. Plan ahead!

Features and Effectiveness

Let’s return to that ten-car pileup in the middle of the three a.m. blizzard. When working under less than ideal conditions, your equipment had better be easy to use. You won’t have the ability to focus on fine details or make intricate adjustments in the pitch black of night. Here are a few features of a portable suction unit that will make your life easier:

  • Clear and easy-to-read knobs or consider a 2-Position Regulator that can be adjusted by feel – who wants to fumble around when trying to clear an airway?

  • Easy to grip handle – your suction unit must be easy to grab when the vomit starts flowing!

  • The right catheters for the job – selection comes in handy, for those chunkier situations.

Amidst the chaos of emergency scenes, your equipment can serve as solace, as long as it is durable, functional, and, most importantly, reliable. And nothing can replace the portable suction unit that meets all of these criteria.