Most commonly, perfusionists operate a heart-lung machine to keep a patient alive during open heart surgery. But their skills have other applications, too. They work with a surgeon and an anesthesiologist as part of a team.
In_addition, perfusionists may use devices that assist the functioning of a failing heart to keep a patient alive until surgery can be done. He also may use such devices for days or weeks after surgery to support circulation until the heart regains its strength. Some perfusionists acquire expertise in pacing technology, as well. They help restart a patient’s heart after cardiac surgery or stabilize an irregular heartbeat using electrical pacemakers or defibrillating devices.
A perfusionist is a member of a cardiothoracic surgical team, which also includes a nurse, physician assistant, anesthesiologist and surgeon. Perfusionists operate the heart-lung machine, monitoring and controling oxygen levels, blood pressure, body temperature and blood flow. They also administer anesthetics and other drugs during surgery. Team members rely on perfusionists to keep them informed of a patient’s status.
New technologies have helped make cardiac procedures less invasive, but have made the role of the perfusionist more prominent. For example, surgeons who use robotics are limited in what they can detect on the camera screen. They rely on perfusionists to alert them to changes in the patient’s vital signs.