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The Proper Care and Sterilization of Anesthesia Equipment: Five Ways to Ensure Cleanliness

Anesthesia equipment is a crucial part of any surgery. Like other surgical tools, every piece of anesthesia equipment, including the breathing machine, must be sterilized. Missing even one small component or tool may introduce viruses or bacteria into a patient's system.

Anesthesia equipment can be particularly tricky to properly clean and sterilize. This is especially true of tools like breathing machines which have multiple components like tubes and masks.

Their very nature as contact instruments used for breathing makes them highly susceptible to retaining microorganisms. The moist, enclosed parts of a breathing machine are prime places for microorganisms to grow. If these microorganisms aren't thoroughly destroyed, they will quickly multiply and flourish.

The same level of care must be given to anesthesia equipment as to other types of surgical tools. The Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) has made a number of recommendations when it comes to cleaning and sterilization of these tools.

The AORN is a national association whose mission is to improve patient safety in a surgical setting. This governing body helps develop standards of surgical practice in consultation with health care and medical professionals.

Among other health goals and outcomes, the AORN has developed a set of recommended practices for anesthesia equipment care. It recognizes that proper cleaning and sterilization of these tools reduces a patient's risk of health complications after surgery. Some of their major recommendations include these five:

1) Cleaning and sterilizing reusable items properly. Components like masks and connectors are used on multiple patients. These parts are among the most likely to harbor microorganisms. Such parts are subject to contamination from mucous membranes, blood, or body fluid.

Recommended practices include high level disinfection using a method such as pasteurization. High-level disinfection methods are most effective at eliminating organic materials.

2) Proper use and disposal of single-use items. Items that are manufactured as single-use items should never be re-used. Even if they are sterilized, these components are still considered to be compromised. Single-use components and tools are not manufactured to the same standards as multi-use components. Their materials are subject to faster deterioration and may not be able to withstand high-level disinfection.

3) Health care personnel should identify potential hazards in the operating room associated with the handling of anesthesia equipment. Transfer of microorganisms from operating room staff to tools is always a possibility.

Anyone who will be coming into contact with these tools or breathing machine components need take precautions. Hospital pre-operative washing policies should be reviewed and improved as needed. The AORN has also developed recommended practices for standard practices when it comes to contact with anesthesia tools.

4) All anesthesia equipment that does not come into direct contact with mucous membranes, blood, or body fluid should be decontaminated or cleaned daily. This includes blood pressure cuffs and the surfaces of machines, like the breathing machine.

5) Develop standardized policies for the maintenance and proper cleaning of anesthesia equipment. Every single health care facility that conducts surgeries (whether major or minor) needs to do this. These policies should be developed jointly with representatives from all professionals concerned. This includes nurses, doctors and surgeons.

Standardized policies help to ensure that every single staff member is on the same page. Policies should be spelled out clearly. Steps should be described in detail so that anyone who works with or around anesthesia equipment has the same understanding. No one has to worry this way whether a tool has been properly cleaned or not.

Health care facilities and hospitals can find help and resources for developing standardized policies regarding anesthesia equipment cleanliness. Governing bodies like the AORN offer resources for free to members of the health care community.


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