Common Medical Tools

Medical tools are necessary if you're providing in-home care for someone, but they can be extremely expensive. In fact, hospitals spend more on supplies than on anything besides staffing.

Hospitals and other medical facilities can negotiate directly with sellers or buy supplies through group purchasing organizations. You don't have access to those, so you can either:

  • Find medical supply stores that sell to the public
  • Buy from retailers such as Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, and Amazon

It may be easier for you to buy kits. Many types are available that contain all the supplies you need for specific uses.

This article goes over basic medical tools that you may need and what they're used for.

Standard Tools

Close up of nurse setting up intravenous saline drip

Echo / Cultura / Getty Images

IV

A common medical need is an IV (intravenous) setup that delivers fluids or medications directly into the bloodstream. An IV setup includes an:

  • IV bag
  • Long, flexible tube
  • Needle
  • Securement device (a butterfly-shaped piece used to secure the needle to the hand)

The exact contents of IV kits depends on which one you choose, but they include things like:

  • Prep, scrub, and alcohol pads
  • Gloves
  • Dressing
  • Medical tape
  • Tourniquet

General Procedure

Supplies you'll find in general purpose and standard procedure kits can include:

  • Gloves
  • Compartment tray
  • Cotton balls and swabs
  • Gauze
  • Other tools such as forceps, scissors, and scalpels

Diagnostic Tools

Aneroid sphygmomanometer - Mechanical blood pressure gauge

GIPhotoStock / Cultura / Getty Images

Some medical tools are use for making diagnoses or checking vital signs. These may be important to have on hand if you're caring for someone in the home.

Stethoscope

Stethoscopes let you listen to important sounds inside someone's body, such as those made by the:

  • Heart
  • Lungs
  • Blood flow
  • Digestive tract

Thermometer

Thermometers are used to determine body temperature. An abnormal temperature can point to certain problems, such as fever or hypothermia.

Two main types of thermometers are:

  • Digital: For oral (in the mouth), axilla (armpit), or rectal use. Some products connect to an app on your phone for easy tracking. Pacifier versions for babies are available.
  • Infrared: For tympanic (ear) or temporal (forehead) use.

Mercury thermometers, which used mercury encased in glass, are no longer made due to safety concerns.

Blood Pressure Kit

When taking blood pressure at home, you can go one of two ways:

  • An automated digital blood pressure monitor
  • A professional blood-pressure kit like you'd see at a medical facility

Automated Blood Pressure Monitor

An automated monitor is simple to use. You put it on your wrist or arm (depending on the manufacturer's instructions) and hit a button. The monitor does the rest of the work.

The accuracy of these may vary, so be sure to get a quality monitor. If you want to see how accurate yours is, take it to a medical appointment and compare it to the reading you get there.

Professional Blood Pressure Kit

A professional blood pressure kit may include:

  • Sphygmomanometer (blood pressure gauge, cuff, bulb for inflating it)
  • Cuffs of various sizes
  • Stethoscope

These setups are harder to use than an automated cuff.

Laceration Tools

Wound´s stitches. Close up.

Aitor Diago / Getty Images

Lacerations are cuts. Laceration tools help clean, close, and protect cuts while they heal. Supplies often include:

  • Needles
  • Sutures (medical thread)
  • Syringes
  • Needle-holders
  • Medicine cups
  • Towels
  • Gauze
  • Medical tape
  • Compartment trays
  • Forceps
  • Scissors

Depending on the nature of the cut, you may be able to use surgical glue, which is sometimes called liquid stitches or tissue adhesive. It's safe and easier to use at home than stitches.

Durable Medical Tools

Close-up Seriously ill young woman lying on a bed in the Hospital ward.
Getty Images

Durable medical tools are for everyday or extended use. This includes things like:

  • Hospital beds
  • Stretchers
  • Oxygen equipment
  • CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machines (for sleep apnea)
  • Crutches, canes, walkers, and wheelchairs
  • Braces, splints, slings, and wraps
  • Shower chairs
  • Nebulizers (to change liquid medications into an inhalable mist)
  • Pressure-reducing support surfaces (e.g., inflatable mattress toppers)

You may need a prescription for some of these items, such as CPAPs or oxygen.

Diabetic Tools

Senior Doing Blood Sugar Test

Miodrag Gajic / Getty Images

Medical supplies used to treat diabetes are designed for everyday home use. Many of them are considered durable medical equipment.

Diabetic supplies include:

  • Glucometers (glucose meters) to test blood sugar levels
  • Glucose test strips
  • Lancing device and lancets, for finger pokes
  • Insulin
  • Syringes and needles or pre-filled auto-injector pens
  • Hydrogel to treat sores from needles and finger pokes
  • Alcohol swabs for pre-injection skin cleaning
  • Sharps container for needle disposal

Paying for Medical Tools

A stethoscope and calculator sit on a price sheet.

Martin Barraud / Getty Images

Before you spend a lot of money on medical supplies, check to see if you have coverage for them through:

  • Your health insurance policy
  • Medicare or Medicaid
  • Worker's Compensation
  • Special programs through suppliers/manufacturers

You may need a prescription or approval from a healthcare provider for them to be covered.

Keep in mind that some big box stores, drug stores, and online retailers carry medical tools. You may find better prices there than at medical-supply stores.

Check with local hospitals and clinics, too. Some of them accept donations of used medical tools and give them to people who can't afford their own.

Also, you may be able to rent some durable medical equipment, including hospital beds, wheelchairs, and other mobility aids. That can help keep costs down if it's a short-term situation.

Summary

Setting yourself up to meet someone's medical needs at home can require a lot of equipment. Depending on your needs, you may need:

  • Standard tools like IV start kits and medical dressing
  • Diagnostic tools like a stethoscope and blood-pressure kit
  • Laceration supplies such as sutures and medical tape
  • Durable medical equipment including hospital beds and mobility aids
  • Diabetic supplies like a glucometer and lancing device

You can buy medical tools at medical-supply shops, big box stores, drug stores, and online. Some of these tools may be rentable or covered by insurance or other programs.

A Word From Verywell

Taking care of someone's medical needs at home is an enormous and important job. Having the right tools can make things easier and better for you and the person you're caring for.

While the person needing care may be your top priority, remember that you need to take care of yourself, as well.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where can you buy medical supplies?

    You can buy medical supplies at medical-supply stores, drug stores, some big box stores, and from online retailers. You may also be able to rent supplies from medical-supply stores.

  • How do you sterilize medical instruments?

    Medical devices are professionally sterilized in many ways, including steam, dry heat, radiation, and vaporized hydrogen peroxide. At home, the best method is often boiling. Check the manufacturer's instructions on how to sterilize different products.

  • How much do medical tools cost?

    Cost depends on the tool. For example, a glucose monitor for diabetes can run from under $10 to more than $1,000. A large item like a hospital bed can start around $500 and go up into the thousands.

  • Is it okay to buy used medical equipment?

    That depends. Buying used is generally fine for things like wheelchairs, walkers, hospital beds, and things that are easily sterilized.

    Use caution with soft items, such as a knee brace, that are harder to disinfect. Get advice from your healthcare provider before buying used items like a CPAP or breast pump, that could potentially spread infection.

  • How can I donate medical equipment?

    Yes, you can. Donated supplies are often given to people who can't afford them. Check with local hospitals, home healthcare companies, and charitable organizations in your area to see who accepts donations.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Department of Commerce. Comprehensive list of basic medical supplies.

  3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Ethylene oxide sterilization for medical devices.