Emergency Planning

In today’s world, a focus on disaster planning and emergency preparedness is integral to hospital operations. However, some Biomeds may think this doesn’t apply to us. I would suggest every biomedical department become very familiar with disaster and emergency planning. I am suggesting that from a medical equipment management perspective. We (the biomedical engineering department) should ensure our facilities have plans in place to address the medical equipment needs of the facility in the event of an emergency.

We have come to rely on technology for almost every aspect of medicine. One look in an ER or an ICU and the amount of high-tech equipment needed and depended on is obvious – sometimes there is barely enough room for the patient. What happens when this equipment is not available or does not work?

Biomedical technicians know firsthand how important technology is to our customers. I would guess that just about everyone in this field has a story about a user/physician becoming unreasonable because a piece of equipment is not available or went down. Some of my brethren have stated they felt like the user was suggesting that the Biomed had caused the device to break. This experience makes the biomedical technician the best resource for helping facilities develop good emergency/disaster plans.

Disaster planning is a requirement for hospitals, and the plans and drills are under continuous scrutiny by state and local officials. On a large scale, hospitals do a good job planning and preparing for disasters. Hospitals are required to have documented drills and to follow up on all findings and deficiencies that are identified. Because our community hosts the Little League World Series, we have had mass casualty drills that incorporate multiple counties and agencies. But what about at the department level? For instance, what if the main monitoring system in the ICU goes down? Does the staff know what do? This is were Biomed can really help.

Typically, for a small emergency related to medical equipment, Biomed is going to be involved on the front end. Obviously, the department will page the on-call technician for immediate response. But, what happens if there is a delay in response? Should the department know what to do next? Or, what happens if the technician on call is not familiar with the equipment and cannot contact the specialist?

My experience is that there are often “plans” or “procedures” to implement but they seldom are effective. The situation quickly degrades to a reactive, stressful and unsafe situation.

The real solution is to have drills that test the procedures and plans developed to handle these technology issues. It is only through drills that we can identify issues that may not have been identified initially. For instance, running equipment on emergency power may identify that the equipment is overly sensitive to emergency power and needs to be connected to a power conditioner. This is something that may not be foreseen when procedures are being developed. Also by having the users experience firsthand how their department is going to work with a disruption or lack of medical equipment assets, they will be better prepared to handle the situation.

A tabletop drill is a safe way to at least go through motions of an emergency. We use table top drills to find out how versed people are with their local departmental plans and illuminate any shortcoming with the procedures.

Biomedical engineers should be involved with all aspects of this process. They possess the necessary experience and knowledge to be able to help formulate plans. During drills, they are going to know the answer to important questions like, where to acquire loaner equipment? Or, what can be effectively substituted in the event of a critical monitoring system failure?

The best solution is to plan, drill and make changes. Everyone should be involved. This will help ensure everyone knows what to do in the event of an emergency.

Jim Fedele, CBET, has been with Medical Dealer magazine for more than 12 years. He is currently the director of clinical engineering for Susquehanna Health Systems in Williamsport, Pa. He can be reached for questions and/or comments by email at info@mdpublishing.com.