How to Troubleshoot Any Medical Device

I’ve developed a simple system for how to troubleshoot almost any piece of medical equipment suspected as malfunctioning. It is a system for working through the list of potential problems in the order most likely to reveal the worst potential problems quickly.

Start by checking the organ system the device attaches to, and then work your way back along the devices operational pathway ending at the power source.

In the example of an IV that is not running, don’t play with the drip chamber or bag first. Check the IV site first, look for signs of swelling or catheter blockage. Then check the IV tubing up to the drip chamber, end at checking the bag.

In the example of a ventilator many will stare at the control panel hoping to divine a solution. You should first listen to the lungs. Then check the ET tube, ventilator circuit or tubing, then the ventilator controls and last check the oxygen supply and/or battery. You will find this system can apply to any device.

By first checking the organ system of device interface, you will discover the most dangerous problems first. You will also soon find you can solve problems quicker by applying a systematic logic to their resolution.

Another way to put it is; Check Your Patient first not the machine.

Often the first sign of a device problem is a nagging feeling of dread and impending doom. The good Paramedic has a finely honed sense of impending doom. You will find that having a logical and systematic approach to dealing with these “alarm bells”, a good way to reduce stress while improving patient care.


About Dan White

I'm a retired Paramedic and EMS Instructor with 35 years EMS and emergency medical product experience. I love canoes, cars and EMS. I have written a lot about EMS Technology on the Paramedic Blog, the Insights on Innovation column for, on and I can be reached directly at 573-240-0002.
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1 Response to How to Troubleshoot Any Medical Device

  1. Christopher says:

    Excellent advice. You don’t check to see if the relay supplying your tire pressure light is bad if that light comes on, you check the tire!

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