Unseen but crucial: The importance of monitoring gas levels

How to select the right gas monitoring system for specific medical applications

Belinda Shuler of QED Environmental Systems discusses why gas monitoring is essential to preserve the safety of patients and the integrity of medical procedures and research; and why establishing a regular routine of gas monitoring is crucial in maintaining safe working conditions

Gas analysers are crucial in medical environments

While air quality is often ignored in daily life because it is unseen; appropriate air composition is never more important than in a medical environment.

Gas monitoring is essential in preserving the safety of patients and the integrity of medical procedures and research.

In addition, establishing a regular routine of gas monitoring is crucial to maintaining safe working conditions for medical staff who are continually exposed to specialised, concentrated gases.

Gas monitoring is essential in preserving the safety of patients and the integrity of medical procedures and research

Systems for gas monitoring have many uses across medical applications, including healthcare delivery, in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) clinics, and medical research, as well as dentistry and veterinarian care.

Sound processes for monitoring key gases like carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), oxygen (O2) and nitrous oxide (N2O) in these settings require accuracy, speed, and efficiency, with modern technology that allows for data gathering, reporting, and reliable sampling.

Preservation

Gas monitoring can assist in ensuring safe environments for biological samples, thereby preserving the integrity of lab processes and supporting repeatable, reliable results.

Medical research and services that require the use of incubators should rely on regular gas monitoring to ensure the conditions inside the units remain consistent. Incubating cell cultures, bacterial cultures, or embryos such as in IVF clinics require optimal conditions at all times.

A regular, built-in process of monitoring CO2 and O2gas levels is essential for ensuring these appropriate conditions.

Failure to use a sufficiently-accurate gas analysis system in the medical setting can be quite serious.

Failure to use a sufficiently-accurate gas analysis system in the medical setting can be quite serious

In bacteria research, entire culture studies may be lost when carbon dioxide levels become too high or too low. In the IVF process, carbon dioxide and/or oxygen levels need to remain steady, or the specific environment that fragile embryos require for successful fertilisation, or even survival, can be compromised.

An accurate, easy-to-manipulate instrument can make all the difference to the success of such a delicate process.

Gas monitoring for safety

The use of a reliable gas analyser is not only essential for preserving biological samples, but also for maintaining a safe environment for patients and staff in the medical setting. For example, nitrous oxide (N2O) was at one time widely used across medical professions to render patients unconscious for treatment. Although no longer the most-used substance for this purpose, it is still used in many other medical applications and research. Since N2O becomes dangerous in large doses, the usage of this gas must be monitored carefully.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (the CDC), waste N2O should not exceed 50 parts per million (50 ppm) during anaesthesia administration. Exposure beyond this level, particularly for health workers exposed repeatedly to N2O, can contribute to an array of adverse health effects, including reduced fertility, neurologic issues, and renal and liver disease.

To mitigate and prevent these health effects, the CDC recommends regular gas monitoring for airborne concentrations of N2O, implementing appropriate engineering controls and work procedures to reduce exposure, and creating a worker education program that informs employees of both the hazards of N2O exposure as well as the controls, gear and monitoring equipment to prevent or reduce exposure.

ViaSensor's G100 range has been developed to incorporate the latest technology and specification requirements

Optimal technology

The technology gas analysis systems employ has evolved considerably in recent years. The advent of digital measurement and infrared technology has created new industry standards that negate the need for the inaccurate, cumbersome technology of the fluid-based measurement systems.

Less-advanced gas analysing instruments use fluids that chemically absorb the gas in question. Using these instruments involves a complicated and time-consuming process of preparation, waiting for the absorbing fluid to settle, pumping in a gas sample, and waiting for the fluid to settle again. At the end of the procedure, the absorbing fluid rises based on the amount of target gas in the sample and the level may be read in a manner similar to a thermometer.

While this fluid-based measurement system is still in use in many medical environments, the technology is outdated and unnecessarily complicated.

The best, most up-to-date gas monitoring system is pivotal to sound research, safe patients, and reliable, trackable data

However, the most-important shortcoming of fluid-based gas analysers is a lack of accuracy. Using fluid absorption to read gas levels relies on many steps that introduce unnecessary human error. The preparation is done by medical employees and the reading relies on the smallest significant digit that can be read with the human eye. The fluid, though it can be replaced once no longer useful, must be tested for viability and when to perform this test depends on human judgment. Many readings could be taken with non-optimal absorption fluid before it is tested and replaced.

Digital technology ensures a higher accuracy rate than older fluid-based models. Infrared (IR) bench technology for detecting CO2 and electrochemical cells for detecting oxygen make reading a gas sample is as easy pressing a few buttons and attaching the sample tube; the electronic analyser does the rest. The digital readout is more accurate than measuring a fluid level in a tube by eye, and the readings can be taken quickly with fast verification.

As an example, QED company, ViaSensor’s, gas analysers take readings in under one minute. This can make an enormous difference in preserving delicate incubator environments, as discussed in the detailed case study below.

The ViaSensor instruments feature built-in moisture removal to reduce error and can measure relative humidity and temperature simultaneously. These gas analysers can also be set up to take both CO2 and oxygen readings at the same time. This is possible because oxygen is read using an electric chemical cell, which allows CO2 to be read with IR technology in a parallel process.

Track and report

Digital gas analysers have another advantage over the more-manually-operated, fluid-based gas monitoring systems.

The fact that the fluid-based systems are not electronic means, not only that readings need to be done ‘by eye’, but also that data cannot be easily logged for records or future comparison.

Digital gas analysers have a reading output that is provided clearly on a digital screen for convenient tracking.

The best, most up-to-date gas monitoring system is pivotal to sound research, safe patients, and reliable, trackable data.

Look for systems with the greatest accuracy, speed and efficiency with modern technology that allows for data gathering, reporting and reliable sampling.

Medical researchers and staff will benefit from investing in the most-modern gas monitoring technology available to preserve their carefully-created work.