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Mobile Medical Devices During Disaster: General Safety

After my experience treating patients in New Orleans following the Katrina Hurricane flooding, i became more interested in using medical devices during disaster. The FDA came out with guidelines regarding this, and I wanted to let you know how well they applied from my on the ground experience. I wanted to give context to these guidelines, pointing out some situations where they may come into play.

This article is the first in a series reviewing the FDA's recommendations, six in total. The General safety guidelines follow, with my comments following in italics:

General Safety
Keep your device and supplies clean and dry.
This was nearly impossible for those escaping from their homes with barely their clothes, much less, their medication. This applies more to medications received in shelters after being rescued.

If you depend on your device to keep you alive, seek emergency services immediately. If possible, notify your local Public Health Authority to request evacuation prior to adverse weather events.
This is tricky since there are many in New Orleans who have "bunkered down" and "rode out" many hurricaines. Hopefully, this recent tragedy will impression in patient's minds the need to evacuate when asked to, and have plans on how to do so.

Always use battery powered flashlights or lanterns rather than gas lights or torches when oxygen is in use (to minimize the risk of fire).
This important to remember for patients who depend on oxygen, since gas generators are often used to power shelters and emergency clinics that are set up.

If your device appears to be damaged, or if you need a back-up device, contact your distributor or device manufacturer.
This isn't very practical in the immediate short-term, but soon after Katrina evacuees settled into shelters, device manufacturers poured donations into the volunteer clinics set up there.

Check all power cords and batteries to make sure they are not wet or damaged by water. If electrical circuits and electrical equipment have gotten wet, turn off the power at the main breaker.
Going one step further, it's not prudent to try and operate a medical device after it's become wet. Most are not designed to endure submersion.

Maintain your device only in a well lit area so you can assess your device's performance (e.g., refilling your insulin pump, checking your glucose meter).

Keep your device in as clean and secure location as possible: off the ground, away from animals or crowded areas.
This is very difficult in the crowded environment of a shelter. Fortunately, I did not hear of one theft among evacuees. More concerning is trying to keep equipment out of the hands of children, since there is no practical way to secure it easily.

Always check your device for pests before you use it (e.g., syringes, mechanical devices).

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About the Author


Dr. Schwimmer's blog explores the intersection of medicine, new technologies, and the Internet.