Perfusionists are skilled, allied health professionals trained to be members of an open-heart surgery team. They are responsible for the set-up and operation of heart-lung machines which take over the functions of a patient’s heart and lungs during surgery or respiratory failure.
During many types of open-heart surgery, the patient’s heart is stopped to make it possible for the surgeon to work on the heart. The patient’s blood is diverted away from the heart and lungs into the heart-lung machine which oxygenates the blood and returns it to the patient.
Perfusionists are responsible for operating the machine during surgery, monitoring the altered circulatory process, and taking appropriate action should any abnormal situation arise. They have to keep the anaesthetist and the surgeon fully informed on the status of the patient.
Perfusionists review the patient’s medical history and chart, consult the surgeon to obtain the necessary set-up information and monitor the patient’s blood temperature, composition and flow rate. They set up and test the machine to ensure that it is working properly and also clean and adjust the parts as needed. Perfusionists often function in supportive roles for other medical specialists by operating mechanical devices, and assist in the preservation of blood and blood products during surgery. Outside the operating room, they provide long-term support to patients with circulatory problems. The exact nature of their duties would depend on the institution where they are working.