Accidental dual humidification in intensive care units: Repeated alerts and system changes are not enough

J Crit Care. 2018 Oct;47:159-163. doi: 10.1016/j.jcrc.2018.06.024. Epub 2018 Jun 30.


Purpose: The inadvertent, simultaneous use of heat and moisture exchangers (HMEs) and heated humidifiers (HHs) can result in waterlogging of the filter and sudden ventilation tube occlusion, with potentially fatal consequences. Following an NHS England Safety Alert, a near miss and educational reminders in our institution, we introduced new guidelines to solely use HHs in the intensive care unit and HMEs only for patient transfers. No further incidents have occurred, however this solution is potentially fallible. Two years later, we sought to assess staff knowledge and likelihood of recognising this error should it occur.

Materials and methods: In a simulation study, a tracheally intubated and ventilated mannequin had a breathing circuit containing both a HME and a HH. Participants were asked to assess the circuit, identify errors and undertake corrective measures.

Results: Only 30% (6/20) recognised and undertook corrective measures.

Conclusions: Despite educational efforts and system changes, recognition of this error remained poor. System changes may reduce the likelihood of the error occurring, but when it does, recognition may not occur. Substantial reductions or elimination of this error may be achieved through a safety-engineered fail-safe within the equipment, which alerts staff to improve recognition and prevent the mistake.

Keywords: Critical airway occlusion; Engineered solutions; Heat and moisture exchanger; Heated humidifier; Human factors; Mechanical ventilation circuit.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Airway Obstruction / etiology*
  • Hot Temperature*
  • Humans
  • Humidifiers*
  • Iatrogenic Disease / prevention & control*
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Medical Errors
  • Patient Simulation
  • Respiration, Artificial / adverse effects*
  • Respiration, Artificial / instrumentation*