Maintain medical equipment
A caregiver may need to maintain various types of medical equipment in the home. This article lists some main categories of home medical equipment, and then offers basic techniques for cleaning, disinfecting, and maintaining them.
Types of home medical equipment
A caregiver may need to maintain various types of medical equipment in the home, particularly if the person they are caring for has significant medical or mobility problems. These include equipment for the following1:
- Testing: These are kits and devices that measure blood, saliva, or urine for things such as blood glucose or COVID-19.
- Assisting: Assistive devices can aid a person’s senses (for instance, hearing aids and speech readers) or help with their mobility (for instance, wheelchairs and scooters).
- Metering and monitoring: This category includes devices that assess or track conditions, such as digital blood-pressure monitors, pulse oximeters (blood-oxygen monitors), and implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs).
- Helping the person breathe: Portable oxygen devices and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines are two of the most common pieces of equipment in this category.
- Treating conditions: Equipment that delivers treatment includes insulin infusion pumps, nebulizers, IVs, and home dialysis machines.
- Voiding: Common voiding equipment includes catheters and colostomy bags.
Cleaning and disinfecting medical equipment
Medical equipment should be kept clean and disinfected. “Clean” means that dirt, dust, and grime are absent; however, germs are still present. “Disinfected” means that germs have been killed; however, dirt, dust, and grime may still be present. The caregiver needs to make sure that, where applicable, medical equipment is both clean and disinfected.
- Clean hands. Caregivers should wash their hands with soap and warm water frequently and dry them on a clean, dry towel.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces on which equipment and supplies are placed. Use soap and water, an antibacterial wipe, and/or a solution of bleach and water (depending on the surface). However, do not use wipes or any other cleaner on the medical equipment itself except as instructed in the instructional material that comes with the equipment.
- Clean any rags or cloth. If possible, bleach materials during laundering. Avoid using sponges, as these have the most bacteria of any item in a house.2 If a sponge is used, it should be a new one and should be thrown away after one use.
- Clean according to instructions of the manufacturer, supplier, or medical professional. Commonly recommended cleaning fluids include a mixture of 1 part white vinegar to 3 parts water, a solution of bleach and water (always dilute bleach: undiluted bleach can be harmful and is no more effective at killing germs), or isopropyl alcohol (concentrated rubbing alcohol).3 Equipment that disperses substances through the air, such as humidifiers and nebulizers, can be cleaned with dish soap and hot water and disinfected with a solution of water and white vinegar.
Looking after durable medical equipment (DME)
Durable medical equipment (DME) is anything that is:
- Used repeatedly (as opposed to equipment and supplies that are disposable)
- Designed for home use
- Used (in general) by someone who is sick or injured.4
DME includes a wide range of equipment, from grab bars and commode chairs to oxygen tanks and infusion pumps. It can be either bought or rented. In addition, many communities have equipment-loan programs.
Before taking any piece of equipment home, read the Home Healthcare Medical Devices Checklist of the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) to make sure you have received all the information.
Since durable medical equipment varies widely in type and complexity, there is no single way to maintain it. Some DME, such as a grab bar or commode seat, is small enough and simple enough for the caregiver to bring home themselves and maintain with minimal instruction. However, suppliers of larger or more complex home medical equipment, such as a dialysis machine or hospital bed, are required to deliver, set up, and instruct the person receiving care and their caregivers in how to use and maintain it.5 The technician who delivers the equipment will also leave an instruction manual and phone number that the caregiver can call with questions or problems.
Take the time to read all instructional material received and to ask questions. If the person receiving care has just come home from the hospital, ask for a nurse to come to the home to teach caregivers about using and maintaining the DME. The person’s physical therapist can provide instructions on use and maintenance of a wheelchair or walker.6
General tips for keeping medical equipment at home
- Know what resources are needed to operate the equipment. These can include electricity, running water, and a computer or internet connection.
- If the equipment runs on electricity, check with an electrician to make sure that the home’s electrical wiring system is updated and grounded, to prevent equipment failure or electrical shock. Also make plans for what happens if the power goes out; a generator or other back-up source will be needed.
- If the equipment runs on batteries, ensure there are extras on hand.
- Keep the supplier’s emergency number handy in case equipment malfunctions or fails.
- Make sure all caregivers are trained in operating and maintaining the equipment.
- Make sure all caregivers are familiar with what any alarms and error messages mean and what steps to take if they occur.
- When not in use, find a place to store medical equipment away from heat, humidity, direct sunlight, children, and pets.
- Store oxygen tanks and tubing in a well-ventilated place, as oxygen can build up in the air and concentrate in soft materials in the area, such as clothes and bedding.7
- Never smoke in a house where there is an oxygen machine, as even a spark can ignite the oxygen and cause a flash explosion or a fire.8
Caring for someone with limited mobility
External supporting content
1 The Role of Human Factors in Home Health Care: Workshop Summary.
2 How to Clean Your Home When Caring for Someone With Cancer. Cancer.net.
3 Caregiving: Reducing Germs and Infection in the Home. PeaceHealth.
4 Durable medical equipment (DME). HealthCare.gov.
5 What Is Home Medical Equipment? Home Medical Equipment Locations
6 Durable Medical Equipment. NextStepInCare.org.
7 Turn it Off: A Patient’s Advice about Oxygen and Smoking. VITAS Healthcare.
8 Home Oxygen Therapy and Cigarette Smoking: a Dangerous Practice. National Library of Medicine.