Increasing the Efficiency of Your Medical Vacuum System

Posted by Jason Di Marco on February 06, 2023
Jason Di Marco

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Note: This post was originally published in April 2022 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness. 

Optimizing the flow of vacuum in your OR enhances the productivity of your surgical staff by allowing your team to spend their valuable time and effort operating. With this, you protect the patient with less available time, and clinicians have less distraction and better turnaround time in the OR.

With optimum vacuum flow, you will boost the morale of your surgical staff by not distracting or delaying their work with poor suction, reducing requests for repairs or remodels of ORs and procedure suites.

A skilled, certified technician will perform our patented Vac Wash Program during your scheduled OR downtime to optimize your system, giving your patients, OR staff, and budget the best possible outcome.

While the Joint Commission (TJC) and the CMS keep us on our toes with current standards and recommendations they continually roll out, one thing has stayed consistent for healthcare facility managers looking to keep their patients safe:

The need for quality suction equipment, specifically a medical vacuum system.

Suctioning is a critical part of patient care and, in some instances, a potentially life-saving procedure. Vacuum systems, including compressed medical gas systems, need regular maintenance to allow for reliable suctioning power. The vacuum created in the pump room makes surgery faster, safer, and cleaner and helps patients breathe more efficiently.

A medical vacuum pump system is designed to provide a safe, sufficient flow of gas or vacuum and the required pressure.

Before we talk about the various kinds of vacuum pumps and their inspection requirements, we need to consider the most significant challenge most hospitals face with vacuum systems: what they suck up. The entire piped system is designed to pull air out of the way. But, unfortunately, it often also intakes fluids, solids, and aerosols. All these foreign materials want to stick to the piping, parts, and the pump's internal components.


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So, for example, do you want to learn how to make sure the canisters in the operating rooms are clean and unobstructed to keep your patients safe?

I'll walk you through the whole process, starting with...

What Makes Up a Medical Vacuum System?

A medical vacuum system includes multiple vacuum pumps, receivers, and a control panel. To be considered a medical vacuum system, it must be fully compliant with the latest edition of NFPA 99. In addition, medical gas and vacuum piping systems must be designed to meet the needs and requirements of each healthcare facility.

The purpose of developing individualized medical gas and vacuum systems is to provide a safe system, sufficient gas or vacuum flow, and the required pressure and suction.

Vacuum is available from wall inlets (pipeline) in your healthcare facility. The vacuum is created by running a mechanical pump typically located in a mechanical room of the building.

Vacuum systems are an essential part of the medical gas system in healthcare facilities. Pumps must be able to provide "high flows and constant, uninterrupted negative pressure."

There are different types of pumps to choose from to ensure patient safety. They are developed to comply with your facility's medical requirements and regulations. 

Types of Vacuum Pumps for Medical and Hospital Use

A medical vacuum pump system must meet NFPA 99 design standards. NFPA 99 states, "The minimum size is a duplex system where one vacuum pump can carry the entire hospital load, and the 2nd pump (lag pump) then provides 100% backup."

Powerex was the first company to package NFPA 99-compliant scroll compressors and systems. Their medical vacuum brochure covers the benefits of the different pumps and how it works.

Dry Claw Pump Technology
  • Efficient Technology
  • Dry Compression
  • Extremely Low Maintenance
  • No Water or Sewage Costs

How a scroll compressor works:

"Inside the pump housing, two claw-shaped rotors take in air as they rotate in opposite directions. The rotors compress the air, then discharge it through a silencer into the atmosphere. The pumping chamber is dry. There is no contact between the rotors or the cylinder wall eliminating internal wear and replacing parts. The rotors are synchronized by gears requiring a small amount of oil in the gear housing."

Dry Rotary Vane Technology

  • No Oil
  • Long Vane Life
  • Low vibration
  • Highly Efficient (Low Energy Usage)
  • No Water or Sewage Costs

How dry rotary vane technology works:

A rotor is mounted eccentrically in the pump cylinder and contains several sliding vanes. As the rotor turns, centrifugal force causes the vanes to slide outward, creating a seal against the cylinder wall.

Oil-Sealed Rotary Vane Technology

  • Air-Cooled Design
  • Lowest Initial Cost
  • Long Vane Life
  • No Water and Sewage Costs

How oil-sealed rotary vane technology works:

"A rotor is mounted eccentrically in the pump cylinder and contains several sliding vanes. As the rotor turns, centrifugal force causes the vanes to slide outward against the cylinder wall."

Tri-Tech Medical offers downloads of medical air vacuum pump system specification sheets. Their medical vacuum pump systems are designed to meet all NFPA 99 and NEC requirements for healthcare facilities.

They are also designed for ease of installation - the only field connections are the inlet, exhaust, and power and alarm connections.

System pipes can get clogged and may begin to deteriorate. With this deterioration comes reduced or low suction in operating rooms. Suction refers to the application of negative pressure, which, in turn, creates the movement of solids, air, and liquids.

In short, your equipment running at full capacity will boost OR productivity and increases procedure efficiency, resulting in more revenue. In addition, a properly maintained system has a minimal risk of cross-infection for your patients. Cross-infection is often caused by backflow resulting from clogged vacuum piping. 

Now that I discussed the types of pumps and how they work, I will show you how to ensure your suction equipment performs its desired task. 

Good Suction Relies on Clean Equipment.

How to Avoid Complications With Medical Vacuum Pipes: 15 Actionable Steps

Hand with marker writing Whats Your Next Step?

Step 1: Have a technician listen to the machine and look at the mechanical connections to verify they are working freely.

Step 2: Perform a test of the power voltage and amperage to measure/verify good operation.

Step 3: Clock times to note that the system is working correctly.

Step 4: Check and test start-up and stop points for duplex or triplex systems.

Step 5: Alarms need to be tested for pressure sensitivity and confirm they send signals to the local board and the secondary alarm terminal outside the maintenance area.

Step 6: Rotary vanes (if this type of pump) need to be visually inspected to ensure no extraordinary wear.

Step 7: Pumps turn at high speed on bearings. Pumps involving bearings need to be lubricated and, depending on the pump brand, require lubricants to be checked or replaced.

Step 8: Attached devices (valves, gauges, pressure switches, and relays) need to be measured to confirm that the systematic monitoring of the storage tanks is working correctly.

Step 9: Check your traps and filters for replacement from all the debris pulled into the system.

Step 10: The system should be checked for leaks in the pump room, specifically around areas with the highest pressures. Even the most minor leaks can make your vacuum pumps run inefficiently, wasting energy and wearing the pumps quicker.

Step 11: The room condition should be assessed to verify the ambient temperature and airflow. This keeps the pump working smoothly.

Step 12: Note the temperature of the exhaust. 

Step 13: The external exhaust port's proper placement and construction should be verified.

Step 14: Recommend necessary repairs and or upgrades.

Step 15: Recommend extra inventory on hand to support your preventative maintenance activities.

GlobalVac discusses detailed examples of maintenance practices for Claw Medical Vacuum Pump systems to enhance efficiency and reliability. 

"These systems use a frictionless, dry, multi-claw technology. The claws are synchronized through precision gears and rotate in opposite directions, building a highly efficient vacuum system. At no point do the claws come into contact with each other, eliminating friction that would otherwise necessitate the need for a sealing fluid or lubricant inside the pumping chamber."

Best Practices for a Rotary Vane Medical Vacuum Pump:

  • Vane Replacement – This is one product where worn-out vanes will make your work difficult. Regular check-ups and maintenance are required.

  • Oil Change – A rotary vane medical vacuum pump requires regular oil replacement every couple of working hours.

  • Vacuum Production – Units need to be frequently replaced to enhance fuel consumption and efficiency. 

Signs of Clogged Medical Vacuum Pipes  

Medical vacuum pumps are designed to remove unwanted gases and fluids. Regular preventative maintenance of your medical gas sources keeps your hospital running efficiently and keeps the professional staff happy and confident since they do not have to provide workarounds for inadequate supplies.


Medical Vacuum Pipes

Examining the inside of a clogged medical system pipe


4 Signs Your Vacuum System is Clogged

  1. Low Flow Rate or Suction – Suction is when a liquid flows into a partial vacuum or a place of low pressure. The minor matter will propel into the low-pressure area when the pressure is low. A reduction in the suction rate indicates that the pressure pipes are clogged.

  2. Complaints of Suction Problems by Medical Experts – During suction, vacuums do not attract matter innately but rather by the higher-pressure air found outside the vacuum cleaner. The reduction of this activity is a clear indicator that the pipes are clogged.

  3. Slow Surgical Procedures – Vacuum machines are required during surgical procedures. When surgical delays are experienced, it could signify that the medical pipes are clogged.

  4. Use of Portable Vacuum Devices – Some clinical staffs use mobile vacuum devices rather than repairing their facilities' clogged vacuum systems.

Optimizing the vacuum flow through regular maintenance and cleaning boosts the productivity of your surgical staff—routine maintenance results in more effective patient protection and better turn-around time in the OR.


Reliable medical gas and vacuum systems are critical to patient care and provide life-saving/supporting gases in your healthcare facility. 

Analyzing and implementing a program for your medical vacuum system is the best way to ensure your patients, staff, and visitors are safe.

If you have questions concerning the best ways to keep your vacuum or any medical gas system working at their optimum rates, contact your CHT representative.

Want to learn how CHT can help you restore your facility's medical vacuum?

 image credit: Analyst


Jason Di Marco

Jason Di Marco

President and CEO at Compliant Healthcare Technologies, LLC
Jason Di Marco has been intimately involved with helping hospitals protect and improve their medical piped gas systems from CHT's beginnings. He is certified by ASSE, NITC, and NFPA as an inspector and installer and has worked with major institutions from construction to risk assessment planning.