By Geoffrey Smith, CBET

The cost of healthcare is becoming a financial concern for almost every American—and it’s making people take notice of HTMs, or biomedical equipment technicians. After all, HTMs can make or break your healthcare organization. And although we repair and maintain medical equipment, our career is more than just walking around with analyzers on a cart, making sure the equipment “works.”

We also forecast when equipment will need future maintenance, research new equipment, test new equipment for our company, and research numerous avenues to save money in contracts, repair parts, and maintenance agreements.

We are seen in the hallways, but biomedical equipment technicians are also a hidden force within the hospital, working behind the scenes of surgeries and emergencies. Not only do we provide safety analysis of equipment, we calibrate and inspect the equipment to see if a component is wearing out. Then, we replace it, preventing the need for an emergency repair (possibly while on a patient or in the middle of the night).

In the “throw away” society of today, the HTM is constantly working to keep equipment working like new in hospitals, clinics, and labs—saving millions of dollars across the country each year. Keep in mind: A cracked $0.65 O-ring was found to be the cause of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, which killed all seven astronauts (including a civilian schoolteacher) on board.

Do seven human lives and a billion-dollar spacecraft deserve the professional status of those who work “behind the scenes” to keep it safe? The HTM’s career can affect thousands of lives with each piece of equipment he or she touches. But, in healthcare, the HTM does more than that.

Case in point: One day when I was finishing up a repair in the operating room, a little boy was brought in for minor surgery. As I was leaving, the nurse called my name and the little boy held out his arms. “I think you remind him of his dad. Would you mind?” she asked. I took the little boy around the room and showed him all the equipment.

When the anesthesiologist arrived, the little boy tensed in my arms. I then sat him on the table, took the mask, and put it on his stuffed bear. “See, he likes it,” I said. The little boy let me put the mask on him and his body slowly relaxed as he went to sleep. I left knowing the equipment was working perfectly for that little boy, too.

Still, despite all we do to impact the lives of those around us, HTM’s need a large organization like AAMI. When I finished my service in the Air Force, we were called “biomedical technicians,” or “certified biomedical technicians.”

As my career progressed, my certified status did not change, but I became a “biomedical technician,” then a “clinical engineer,” then a “biomedical engineer,” then a “field service biomed, and finally  a “biomedical specialist.” With an organization like AAMI, we could reduce the “fog” of names and become one entity of biomedical equipment technicians and certified biomedical technicians, with our accepted levels I, II, III, and leads.

Without the support of a professional body, all of us are going to be subject to others telling us what to do and how to do it, by companies that do not understand what BMETs do. We will have organizations try to “buy” our departments and then dictate how they are run (when we’ve actually known the best way to run them all along). Instead of doing our jobs to save money, we will be forced to increase profits for our third-party employer.

If you must question the professionalism of the HTM, have you ever thought: “I wonder if the anesthesia machine was calibrated correctly before I’m put to sleep?” Or, “I hope the MRI machine was put together correctly so it doesn’t come apart and badly hurt me, or worse?” No—people get to relax and feel safe because the HTM has already done his or her job correctly.

Integrity is “doing the right thing, even when no one is watching”—a mantra the HTM uses every day. And when you hear “Code blue” called out in the hospital, you can rest assured that the HTM has made sure the equipment was safe to use on that patient, made sure the batteries were new and charged on schedule, and inspected the O-rings on the patient circuitry connections to prevent a leak.

We don’t ask for applause; we do it because it’s our job. After all, if we do our job, nurses and doctors can do theirs better. And maybe, just maybe, they can bring good news to the family and loved ones of a patient as often as possible, although there’s always a higher source that we can’t override.

HTMs are professionals. We act like professionals; we work like professionals; and we need to maintain our professionalism to be viewed as professionals. Our career requires more than just a high school diploma and good driving record. That’s why with the help of a governing body like AAMI, others will realize we are more than so-called “repair techs.”

Geoffrey Smith, CBET, is a biomedical engineer at Troy, Mich.-based Beaumont Health.