Biomedical Engineering (BME/Biomed) applies science and engineering to the design and functionality of medical equipment and devices. When it comes to safety, the expertise of Biomedical Engineers is sought to ensure equipment is operating as it should be, healthcare providers understand how to use it and patients are kept safe from undue harm.

At Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), the Biomed team is monitoring their BC PSLS data regularly to keep informed of all safety issues related to medical equipment. Interestingly, their findings show that patients are more at risk for injury from basic everyday medical equipment, such as hospital beds, than they are from complicated high-tech medical machines.

“Our first introduction to the capability of BC PSLS was when we noticed an issue with bed-exit alarms,” says Gord McConnell, Biomedical Engineer. “We noticed that staff was reporting issues with bed-exit alarms not going off when they should be.”

By sounding an alarm to alert staff, bed-exit alarms are one way to prevent the occurrence of patient “falls” – 40% of all safety events reported in BC PSLS (provincially). While bed-exit alarms are relatively simple for healthcare staff to operate, they can vary among manufacturers and this inconsistency can be confusing.

“Once we learned about the issue with bed-exit alarms we held an in-service for staff and put together an education package with charts, posters and diagrams so the staff could easily identify the various types of bed-exit alarms and how to operate them,” says Gord. 

Similarly, while working with Charles Xiao, also a Biomedical Engineer at VCH, Gord identified another hospital bed issue called bed entrapment – when a physically or mentally impaired patient becomes entrapped in his/her hospital bed. Gord says, “Bed entrapment is not typically life-threatening, but when a patient’s arms and legs become entangled in bed rails it can be painful and emotionally upsetting.”

Gord and Charles discovered that bed entrapment was happening in areas where old mattresses were being replaced with new ones that did not properly fit the existing beds.

“Now, by reviewing our BC PSLS data, we can identify these types of situations and put new processes or preventive measures in place. Patients at risk for entrapment can be placed in a bed that is more appropriate for their needs.

When talking about BC PSLS and how it’s changed the work of the VCH Biomed team, Gord says the system has brought huge benefits. He says having a way to track and trend events electronically is far more valuable than dealing with multiple paper-based documents and forms. In the coming months, Biomed teams across the province can expect additional improvements to BC PSLS that will enhance data collection about equipment-related patient safety issues.

“It’s wonderful to have a system like BC PSLS in place,” says Gord. “Every day we’re finding more ways to use the data and make changes across the entire system. We’re definitely making improvements to patient safety.”

Thank you to Gord, Charles and all staff across BC who manage and respond to equipment-related patient safety problems. 

To find out more about what Biomedical Engineering is and what Biomedical Engineering staff do, please visit: Lower Mainland Biomedical Engineering

Gord McConnell recently retired from his position as Biomedical Engineer at Vancouver Coastal Health. Charles Xiao has held the position of Biomedical Engineer with Biomedical Engineering at VCH for the past nine years.

For more information about their approach to medical equipment safety and how BC PSLS supports their work, please contact Charles at Charles.Xiao@vch.ca.

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