Health system decides to test everything

At least one health care system isn’t taking the manufacturer’s word for it when it comes to the year 2000 (Y2K) compatibility of its equipment.

The legal department for Catholic Health-care West, a San Francisco-based system of 46 acute care facilities, says all critical medical devices should be tested. Period.

Jack Beebe is director of medical devices and facility control equipment at Catholic Healthcare West Year 2000, a project management office set up to address Y2K issues.

"If you look at the information provided by most of the manufacturers, on their Web sites or to the FDA, they tell you device is compliant or noncompliant, or it’s compliant with minor implications or effects," Beebe says. "There’s no description of minor effects."

Beebe’s office has tested more than 15,000 devices, and he says 2,700 are at risk. For example, one sterilizer manufacturer states all its equipment is Y2K-compliant. However, there is a problem with the load record that prints at the end of every sterilization cycle. That record must be kept for accreditation and infection control purposes.

"That date and time will be incorrect after year 2000," Beebe says. "We’re going to have to make a manual intervention and new policy, and probably have two people sign off on the correct date on load records. This is one of those things: It doesn’t affect the functionality of the sterilizer, but it does affect the people that run it."

He offers this additional piece of advice: Make sure you check the backup batteries on medical devices. "We’ve found thousands of devices in which backup batteries are dead."

Backup batteries frequently have not been replaced on a regular schedule, Beebe explains. "The date and time are incorrect because of the lack of a backup battery."