Every nurse knows durable medical equipment doesn’t last forever.


When was the last time you kicked a hospital bed in frustration because the motor ground to a halt as you were elevating a patient’s head? Or you discovered an IV pump apparently quit working in the middle of the night, depriving your patient of vital hydration?


When equipment like a portable medical suction machine unexpectedly stops working, it can be more than a nuisance. It can endanger patient safety. If you reach for a suction wand because your patient aspirated, and you discover there’s no suction...there may be a bad outcome in the wings.



3 Considerations for When to Replace Your Medical Suction Machine

Like any other durable medical equipment, an emergency suction device will not last forever. You should base your replacement strategy on three key considerations:


1. Durability

Because of the nature of when they’re used, portable emergency medical suction devices often must withstand considerable abuse. They can get bumped around, dropped to the floor and go through other trials. That said, durability should correlate to an increased functional lifespan. Of course, even the most durable medical suction requires periodic maintenance and testing.


2. Functional Life

In its technical bulletin TB MED 7, the Department of the Army pegs the lifespan of any medical “suction apparatus” at 10 years--but some devices can last twice as long. As with any other type of equipment purchase, high-quality machines generally have a much longer functional life. Keep in mind this is an approximate time period. Many factors can affect a suction machine’s life expectancy, including abuse and failure to maintain it. But you can use the 10-year time frame as a tool to budget for future equipment needs.


3. Scheduled Replacement

For maximum safety, your hospital should implement a plan to replace its emergency medical suction devices on a timetable. Routinely retiring old machines and replacing them with new ones reduces the chance of a machine suddenly failing due to age.




For Safety, Test Your Portable Suction Device Regularly.

Your unit no doubt has a protocol for checking the crash cart. In particular, the defibrillator must be run through its paces regularly to make sure it will function properly when needed. You should implement a similar protocol for checking your emergency suction machines.


The two key components you should routinely check on every portable medical suction device are:


1. Battery health and capacity
2. Mechanical function


The battery obviously plays a critical role in the functionality of your emergency suction machine. If the battery is dead, you may not have suction unless you can plug in to an outlet. Checking battery health and capacity can be tricky, though. You can turn the machine on and off to make sure it will run, but that doesn’t guarantee it will turn on the next time you need it.


Once you’ve determined the battery is good, you should test the aspirator’s mechanical function. Even if the batteries work, the mechanical components may be worn and produce very low suction. Low suction might as well be no suction in some situations, such as when you’re trying to remove viscous fluid like vomitus from the airway.


The best way to test the battery health and mechanical function of your portable medical suction machine is to use an aspirator testing kit, available free from SSCOR. This all-in-one device makes it easy to quickly test your portable aspirators on a routine basis, ensuring they’re ready to perform to standard in the event of an emergency.


How Often Should You Really Need to Replace Your Medical Suction Machine?


As you’ve seen above, the answer to this question varies. You should take into account the environment your device is used in (hospital setting versus in the field) and functional lifespan in order to create a plan for routinely replacing outdated equipment.


In the meantime, be sure to test your emergency suction devices as frequently as you check a defibrillator in order to ensure you have suction every time you need it.


Have you ever experienced a failure of emergency equipment during your shift? Tell us about it in the comments.


Editor's Note: This blog was originally published in April 2015. It has been re-published with additional up to date content.