Health Encyclopedia

How to Properly Manage Medical Devices

Whether it's placing a thermometer under your tongue or standing on a scale to weigh yourself, chances are good you've used a personal medical device at one time or another.

Many people with chronic illnesses depend on more elaborate medical devices, such as cardiac pacemakers or blood-glucose monitors, for their health and well-being. Countless others help their loved ones, young or old, deal with an oxygen machine, asthma medication inhaler, or other device. No matter how sophisticated or simple the piece of medical equipment is, it's crucial to use and maintain it properly.

A number of the rules for managing medical devices apply to just about any device. For example, you need to consult the manual, understand what the equipment does, get additional instruction if necessary, and know who to call if something seems out of order.

On your own

The following advice applies to nearly any medical device you might use.

  • Ask questions. If you don't understand the instructions when given to you, say, "Wait, please explain it again."

  • Do a return demonstration. After you've been instructed in how to use the equipment, show the health care provider how it's done, to ensure you understand.

  • Teach a support person how to manage your equipment, in case you're not well enough to do it yourself. Your support system is crucial; it may include a family member, friend, or neighbor.

  • Post clear instructions; for example, whom to call if the equipment breaks down, you run out of supplies, or your health worsens.

  • Address any barriers to proper equipment use. For example, ask the manufacturer if the owner's manual is available in your language of choice. Is the equipment's display big and bright enough for you to read?

  • Have backup supplies. You always should have enough medications, batteries, and other necessary supplies for 72 hours of usage. Also keep on hand emergency stocks, such as a jar of orange juice, for an episode of low blood sugar, which you won't touch for any other purpose. Make sure you never run out of important supplies.

  • Plan well ahead when traveling. For example, investigate the airline's policy for bringing your medical equipment on board with you. Anticipate everything you might need at your destination, where some necessities might not be available for purchase.

  • Take care with electrical devices. Ensure that wires or long oxygen hoses don't pose a tripping hazard. To avoid a fire hazard, use the appropriate power sources as described in the owner's manual.

  • Note unusual equipment readings. If your blood sugar is reading at 20, for example, and you feel fine, there's something wrong with the glucometer. Have it checked out right away. Conversely, if you feel awful but your numbers look good, don't disregard how you're feeling. Bring your blood sugar monitor with you to office appointments. Your health care provider can make sure it is calibrated correctly and giving you the correct information. Check your glucometer against the “standard” supplied when you purchased the machine. If the reading and the standard don’t match, your machine needs repair.

Specific pointers

  • Hypodermic needles. People who self-administer shots need instruction in how to dispose of the needles or sharps. They shouldn't be tossed in the trash. Instead, use an approved sharps container, or place them in any sealable container, such as a soda bottle. Do this even if you have no contagious disease because the people who pick up your trash will assume the worst if they get a needle-stick, and will have to go through worry and testing.

  • Blood pressure monitors. Take these with you to your doctor's visit to ensure they're properly calibrated as often as the manufacturer recommends.

  • Nebulizers. Cleanliness is the rule with these devices, which are used to administer medications for asthma, emphysema, and other lung diseases. Follow the manufacturer's guidelines for cleaning your nebulizer and routinely change the filter. You can disinfect it with a solution of three parts hot water to one part white vinegar.

  • Asthma inhalers. When using prescribed meter-dosed inhalers, always include a spacer, so medication won't be lost to the atmosphere.

  • Oxygen machines:

    • The nosepiece (nasal cannula) should always be pliable, not hard, and should always be free of any nasal secretions.

    • Keep any bubble bottle filled with distilled water and make sure all tubing is intact and clean.

    • Always keep on hand a nonelectrical backup oxygen source, in case of power failure.

    • Never allow anyone to smoke around an oxygen machine because oxygen can cause a fire.

    • Be sure to place signs on the front and back entrances to your house indicating oxygen is in use.

    • When using an oxygen cylinder where the gas is under high pressure, make sure it is secured to some fixed object or in a stand to prevent accidental discharge of the gas.

    • When traveling with an oxygen tank, never place the tank in a car trunk. Always keep it in a well-ventilated place not exposed to extreme heat.

No matter what device you use, call your doctor if you have questions.



Medical Reviewers:

  • Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
  • Haines, Cynthia, MD