Avoid Portable Suction Failure With These 5 Tips

Portable suction failure is a major contributor to patient morbidity when first responders otherwise follow correct protocol. A 2013 study published in Prehospital and Disaster Medicine assessed the rate of portable suction failure over two years in more than 9,500 portable suction units. Overall, 2.4 percent failed. This suggests that two in every hundred patients got inadequate care instead of potentially life-saving, prompt suction.


Failed suction can necessitate a long search for a backup unit, alternative suction, or a second battery. Don’t make your patients wait. Prevent portable suction failure with these five tips.


  1. Check the Batteries

According to the study, battery failures account for more than half (54.1 percent) of equipment failure incidents. This is a totally preventable failure. Simply taking a moment to check the battery could save a life. To reduce the risk of battery failure, try the following strategies:

  • If appropriate for your device, invest in a backup battery and store it with the suction machine.
  • Regularly test the battery by powering the unit on and assessing suction. This is particularly important if your agency rarely uses portable suction.
  • Check the battery position daily, If appropriate for your device. Jostling during ambulance rides or as you rush to patients can, over time, displace the battery. Incorrectly seated batteries accounted for an additional percentage of equipment failures.
  • Know the battery life for your equipment. Consider marking the battery’s expiration date on the outside of your bag or in some other prominent location so you know when the time to replace the battery is approaching.

Everything you need to know to help your institution make the right portable  suction purchase >


  1. Invest in a Testing Kit

Quality manufacturers are committed to protecting patient safety with reliable suction machines. Ask the manufacturer about a testing kit. These kits can promptly detect suction issues, battery malfunctions, and other common problems. SCCOR offers a free aspirator test kit here. The small time investment required to power on the unit and test it may one day be repaid by saving a patient’s life.


  1. Power the Unit On Every Day

The above study argues that a major risk factor for equipment failure is lack of use. When you don’t regularly use the unit, problems may go undetected. You may not know what’s typical for the unit and what’s a sign of trouble. Simply turning the unit on each day can familiarize you with the machine and offer an early opportunity to remedy problems. Powering the unit on and monitoring for signs of trouble should be a daily part of your patient prep work.


  1. Have the Right Accessories Available

Ten inspections failed due to incorrect assembly, and an additional nine failed because of defects with the suction canister. Kinks or other problems in tubing accounted for an additional five failures.


This points to the importance of having the right accessories available. The right disposables and other accessories make assembly easier and reduce the risk of kinks in the tubing and other preventable equipment failure. Your agency should invest in a suction machine that supports the equipment you already have. Store your disposables with the suction machine and promptly dispose of anything that is broken, kinked, or doesn’t fit the machine.


  1. Read the Manual

With 10 failures due to incorrect assembly and an additional 73 due to miscellaneous other reasons such as switch failure or an unseated battery, user error is clearly a factor in many equipment failures. Knowing how the machine functions, understanding common warning lights and errors, and a keen understanding of proper assembly can all help prevent common errors with assembly and usage. Read the manual or quick-start guide, and if something seems unclear or amiss, contact the manufacturer.


Choosing the right suction machine can greatly reduce the risk of portable suction failure. We can help you choose the right device for your agency and patient population. Download our free guide, The Ultimate Guide to Purchasing a Portable Emergency Suction Device, here.

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