Main Categories of Medical Supplies

The quantity and variety of medical supplies are expanding every day. Sometimes someone invents a new piece of equipment or a device out of necessity. Other times, a manufacturer updates and improves an existing product.

Either way, the development of new supplies seems to grow exponentially every year, like other categories of technology we know (think: computers, tablets, mobile phones).

Here are nine commonly recognized categories in healthcare equipment.



Electric blood pressure cuff closeup

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More medical devices become electronic every year. Most medical devices now have electronic options.

A perfect example is a blood pressure monitor. Once a manual pump, today the majority of them are automatic and include digital readouts.

One major growth category we are seeing now involves the electronic medical record (EMR), sometimes called the electronic health record (EHR). Not only are more companies developing the software to streamline the use of the EMR, there are several companies working on ways to store and transport the EMR.



A diabetic testing her blood sugar.

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Self-care devices (often referred to as “home care”) are devices that the patient or consumer uses in their daily life, at home. In other words, these products do not typically require a clinician to be present for their use.

Hearing aids, diabetes management tools, respiratory aids, and mobility aids are examples of self-care equipment used at home as part of a person’s daily routine.



Ophthalmoscope on white background

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Tools used to test or screen for conditions are known as diagnostic equipment.

This type of equipment basically takes a biological or chemical measurement that gets recorded in the medical record and is used for a diagnosis or to track therapeutic progress.

For example, a few diagnostic tools used in exam rooms include:

  • Sphygmomanometers: record blood pressure
  • Ophthalmoscopes: used in eye exams
  • Otoscopes: allow a clinician to evaluate the health of the outer and middle ear


settings Handing doctor surgical tool in operating room.

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Surgical supplies and equipment include the stainless steel tools that surgical teams use in surgery. Other types of surgical tools can include diagnostic scopes that surgeons insert deep into the patient’s body so they can see in hard-to-reach places.

Supplies used in surgery include the disposable items the medical team wears for personal protection from infection, such as caps, gowns, gloves, and glasses. It also includes the gauze and drapes used to keep the patient clean and safe.

Surgical supplies can be such a large category that many hospitals have their own Operating Room Purchasing and Materials Management staff to manage it.


Durable Medical Equipment

Woman pushing mother in wheel chair

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Often abbreviated as “DME," durable medical equipment includes various types of walking aids, transfer equipment, bath safety, and wheelchairs.

As the name implies, this category must be manufactured and tested to be “durable” because patients who use this equipment rely on it to keep them safe and comfortable.

Due to the various conditions that require their use, DME can be tested quite vigorously for weight or load-bearing strength, as well as for non-slip features.


Acute Care

Monitoring equipment in hospital

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Equipment and supplies used in hospitals are known as acute-care supplies. 

These supplies differ from “Home Care/Self Care” supplies because they are bought and stored by hospitals. They require a member of the hospital’s patient care staff to be used properly. 

Nursing care kits such as general-purpose trays, minor procedure trays, wound and skincare kits, monitoring equipment, and non-surgical instruments are used on a daily basis in hospitals for patient care.


Emergency and Trauma

Sliding doors of emergency room in hospital
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Emergency departments see perhaps the widest variety of patients and conditions. They are often called the “front door” to a hospital because the Emergency Department is often the first (and sometimes only) area of a hospital that a patient will see.

A growing number of uninsured patients only seek care in the ER because they cannot afford to pay for a primary care visit out of pocket. They know that emergency rooms cannot turn away a patient in need.

Emergency departments need to be prepared with ample supplies for diagnostic and exam tools, wound care supplies, respiratory therapy equipment, minor procedure kits, and personal protective gear. In other words, they need to be equipped as a mini-hospital.


Long-Term Care

Nursing helping woman stand with walker in nursing home

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Long-term care centers such as nursing homes, assisted-living residences, skilled nursing facilities, hospices, and even rehabilitation hospitals, require many of the items described above, as well as less-acute supplies for long-term care of a patient or resident.

In many cases, the person cared for in these environments is called a “resident” rather than a “patient.”

Common categories of supply used in these facilities include beds and mattresses, therapeutic chairs that serve various functions, mobility assistance products, incontinence management supplies, exercise equipment, and grooming and dressing aids.


Storage and Transport

Medical cart in hospital corridor
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Patients and long-term care residents sometimes do not have the mobility to travel to a necessary piece of equipment, so various types of carts are used to bring medical supplies to them.

Case carts, storage carts, supply carts, linen carts, food carts, and procedure carts are some of the most common types needed in healthcare. These carts store and transport much of the equipment described in all of the above categories.

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