The world of medical gas and vacuum systems is complex, diverse, critical to the safety of our patients and so physically large it makes an MRI scanner look tiny. So why isn’t this sophisticated medical technology subjected to the same comprehensive management techniques developed for healthcare devices? First, we need to understand the enormous animal that lives inside our walls.

photoThere is a universe lurking behind the walls of a healthcare facility. Piped medical gases and central vacuum systems that move nine critical elements — oxygen, high-pressure oxygen, medical air, nitrous oxide, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, medical-surgical vacuum and waste anesthesia evacuation — in a ballet of pipes, valves and sensors. But the dance often lacks a choreographer. Pipes enter and exit without cues, taps and valves add unexpected steps, until the result looks more like a stampede than Swan Lake.

Medical gas and vacuum systems are too important to leave to chance. They deserve technology management attention on a par with imaging, information systems, patient monitoring, and the other healthcare technologies we routinely scrutinize. A program of informed lifecycle oversight, from the first architectural plans until the last valve is shut off, can keep the medical gas elements safely and reliably available whenever a patient needs them.

Let’s start with a look at typical applications of each element: Oxygen is generally used to enriched the atmosphere for patient therapy and procedures. O2 is a drug and it is dispensed by prescription. High-pressure oxygen is used for hyperbaric treatment. Medical air is inhaled by patients, often through secondary pneumatic equipment. Nitrous oxide provides the first and second stages of anesthesia. Nitrogen powers pneumatic surgical tools. Carbon dioxide gas is becoming more common in piped systems as it gains more use in advanced respiratory treatment and operating room procedures. Medical-surgical vacuum has many uses in the facility – for suction, wound care, surgical procedures, thoracic drainage, and laboratory needs – and it is subject to National Fire Protection Administration (NFPA) recommendations. Finally, waste anesthesia gas evacuation (WAGE) protects people working in the operating room.

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