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Everyone's Guide to Medical Equipment - Part 1 - Basics

cyberkA recent article on how a Big Pharma boosted sales for a new drug described how they strong-armed medical equipment manufacturers into making it possible for every doctor and clinic to afford a bone density measuring machine. That got us thinking about how little we know about the various devices that are used on us when we visit our physicians, clinics or hospitals.

Most of is is there for a very specific purpose and has been very carefully tested before it can be used on patients, but some of it, such as X-ray devices, pose risks that we should all know about. Some of it is relatively simple and can be used for telehealth and home monitoring, but a lot of it is still confined to laboratories and high end facilities.

In this series, where we’ll cover about one topic per week, we’ll look at equipment that we’re all familiar with, such as thermometers and stethoscopes, common tools, such as X-ray and other imaging devices, and some that are very new or still on the drawing board. We won’t be writing this for engineers, but we hope that it will be another step into getting a better understanding of why our physicians use these devices and why they matter to us.

Medical equipment can be broadly categorized as follows:

  • Medical monitors: These are used to measure a patient’s medical state. They measure patient vital signs, ranging from temperature and blood pressure to heart activity and dissolved gases in the blood stream.
  • Medical laboratory equipment: Devices that automate or help analyze blood, cerebrospinal fluid, genes and waste products.
  • Diagnostic equipment: This category covers medical imaging machines, such as Computed Tomography (CT) and Positron Emission Tomography scanners (PET), ultrasound and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines and X-ray machines.
  • Surgical instruments: Ranging from scalpels to robotics and nanotechnology.
  • Life support equipment: Used to maintain or manipulate a patient’s bodily and brain functions. Examples include anaesthetic machines, defibrillators, dialysis machines, Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machines, heart-lung machines and medical ventilators.
  • Therapeutic equipment: This includes air fluidized beds, bronchoscopes, infusion pumps, medical lasers and LASIK surgical machines. Some of them, such as bronchoscopes, can also be used for diagnostic purposes.

We’ll also take a look at some devices that are no longer in use and equipment of questionable merit that has been pushed onto the market purely for commercial reasons. It’s no coincidence that the Senate health reform bill imposes a tax on sun tanning beds. In the next article we’ll look at the common tools that your physician uses to examine you, plus some of their ancestors.

Related Articles: Part 2 – Starter Kit

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