GE Converts Anesthesia Machines into Ventilators

The technique presents numerous design challenges — but could create thousands of additional machines.


The ongoing need for ventilators has been widely publicized. In response, the industrial sector has banded together by 3D-printing components, changing over production lines, and opening up supply channels to support the increased manufacturing of machines that are so vital in the fight against COVID-19.

Mechanical ventilators keep patients breathing when their lungs are compromised. In this manner, they are similar to the anesthesia machines used during surgery. The biggest difference between the two is that operations take hours, whereas patients on ventilators need those machines to operate, potentially, for days.

Recently, several manufacturers, including GE Healthcare, began working with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to outline processes and procedures that allow for transitioning anesthesia machines to serve as substitutes for ventilators.

By following a collection of guidelines, hundreds of thousands of machines could be transitioned and used to help treat patients.

Perhaps the most significant challenge in adjusting the anesthesia machines is accounting for the different ventilation modes and settings.

Ventilators utilize a one-way system — passing air and gas into a patient’s lungs one time. Anesthesia machines are designed to allow patients to rebreathe some of the air and gases delivered by the device.

Additionally, healthcare providers need to eliminate the anesthesia delivery aspect of the machine by removing vaporizers that would normally deliver this gas to the patient.

There’s also a canister that absorbs carbon dioxide from a patient’s exhalations that needs to be changed regularly. And air flow would need to be adjusted, as the breathing abilities of a COVID sufferer and a surgical patient are obviously very different.

GE has posted videos and additional information on its site to help healthcare workers understand the differences in the machines, as well as the right ways to safely transition anesthesia machines for treating COVID-19 patients.

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