Meet your treatment team: Dialysis technician

As a dialysis patient, you probably spend more time with your dialysis technicians, or patient care technicians, than with any other member of your care team. Dialysis technicians are a vital part of your team and the treatment you receive. They are responsible for making sure your dialysis goes as smoothly as possible, whether you dialyze in a center or at home.

Before they can work with patients, dialysis technicians must become Certified Clinical Hemodialysis Technicians (CCHT). Some technicians have had medical experience before starting in the dialysis industry, and others work as technicians to get their foot in the door to a career in medicine. Dialysis technicians typically work three days per week and 12.5 hours per shift, and they are usually supervised by the dialysis nurses at their centers.

If you are a home dialysis patient, a dialysis technician is usually the person who will make sure you have the supplies you need to do your treatments at home. If you and your caregiver need a break from the responsibilities of home treatment or if you are traveling, you can also temporarily dialyze in a center, where a technician will manage your session. If you have a problem with your home treatment or develop an infection, your doctor may recommend in-center dialysis for a period of time, depending on your situation. In these cases, the technicians in the center will treat you until you are well enough to go back to your regular home dialysis schedule. Patients who dialyze in-center may hear their technicians talk about the benefits of home treatment.

Your technicians care for you in three important ways during dialysis: ensuring your safety, monitoring your health and building a relationship with you, so they can provide you quality care.

Ensuring your safety

Your technicians prepare you for dialysis in ways you may not even realize. Many dialysis centers open early in the morning, which means some technicians start work in the middle of the night to make sure your center is ready for you. Before you arrive, technicians set up the dialysis machines, check them to make sure they are working, sterilize each station and more.

While the center is open, technicians sterilize each station again before the next patient arrives, monitor the machines and make sure everything is functioning properly. Technicians are also trained to deal with any complications or emergencies that may come up during treatment, including giving patients oxygen and performing CPR when needed.

Some dialysis centers have their own water treatment rooms where equipment works to filter water to make it safe for patient use. Technicians monitor water values when they first get to work and throughout the day. They also add water softener, change filters and conduct chemical checks. That way, when water is added to the dialysate solution that cleans your blood, no impurities are added back into your body when the blood is returned.

Monitoring your health

If you dialyze in a center, your technicians will monitor how you are doing before treatment begins and every 30 minutes during treatment. When you first arrive, they check your vital signs: blood pressure, heart rate, weight and temperature. During treatment, they continue to check and record your vital signs, give you local anesthesia and other medicines as needed, respond to alarms on your dialysis machine and follow up on any concerns you have had since your last dialysis treatment.

Your technician will inspect your vascular access for signs of infection and ask you if you have had any pain in the area. If so, they will have a nurse examine you further. If everything looks good, the technician will place two needles into your access and begin treatment. If you have any questions about dialysis or concerns about how you feel during your session, your technicians are the first ones you will notify.

Building relationships

Since you will spend a lot of time with your dialysis technicians, you may develop a close relationship with them. Many technicians love what they do and they do it because they truly care about their patients. Some patients describe their centers and technicians as a community or family. Some technicians feel the same way about their patients, and some may even see their patients more often than they see their own families.

Once you develop a close relationship with your technicians, you may feel more comfortable asking them questions about your health. Technicians can give you basic nutritional information about the food and fluid plan your dietitian has recommended, tell you how much weight you are able to lift with your access arm, answer questions about vascular accesses and catheters, and give you tips on traveling as a dialysis patient. Your technician may refer questions about your specific care, such as how much fluid you should be drinking, to other members of your team.

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About the Author(s)

Elissa Blattman

Elissa Blattman is the associate director of communications at the American Kidney Fund.

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