Managing the extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) circuit integrity and safety utilizing the perfusionist as the “ECMO Specialist”

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Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is an extracorporeal technique of providing both cardiac and respiratory support to patients whose heart and lungs are so severely diseased or damaged that they can no longer serve their function. Neonatal and pediatric ECMO was accepted as practice in the early 1990s and according to the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization, ELSO; of the >50,000 patients registered, 73% have survived extracorporeal life support (ECLS). It is not uncommon to find initial cannulation of a patient receiving ECMO performed by a surgeon and then the maintenance of the patient being left in the hands of various others deemed as the “ECMO Specialists”. The specialist has a broad base of professionals, including: nurses, respiratory therapists, perfusionists and physicians. Each institution, having its own unique training for these individuals, has provided a milieu for education, but does not share an established standard of care. From 2009, after the surge of the H1N1 epidemic, adult ECMO has been increasing; n=53 in 2010 to n= 110 in 2012 at our institution. The perfusionist has been the “specialist” for ECMO at our institution since the early 1990s and remained at bedside during ECMO. We have now developed a safe circuit and fiscally responsible staffing model that utilizes a perfusionist and a telemetry-based electronic record keeper, permitting the perfusionist to leave the bedside and interact with the circuit when necessary. This has permitted an expansive growth of ECMO in our intensive care units at our facility incorporating a multidisciplinary collaboration system wide.

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