Health systems using technology to manage medical equipment will be prepared to adapt and thrive to an ever-changing healthcare environment.

By Kristi McDermott

Technology has reshaped the healthcare industry–empowering clinicians, technicians, and executives to better serve patients and achieve their goals. However, technology does not eliminate the need for human oversight and management. Healthcare technology will continue to advance at a rapid pace in the coming years, including complex developments like artificial intelligence (AI). Going into 2024, health systems must have clear goals, a comprehensive plan, and organized systems and processes in place to harness the power of technology.

Increasing the level of governance over software-based solutions will help health systems address the challenges that will persist through the new year, including staff shortages, slim operating margins, and evolving cybersecurity risks. It is essential for health systems to strategically adopt and manage technology portfolios to improve patient care and safety while achieving the organization’s reputational and financial objectives.

Improve and Simplify Workloads for BMETs and Nurses

Biomedical equipment technicians (BMETs) and nurses are dealing with greater administrative workloads, burnout, and understaffing. These industry problems will threaten clinical operations and the standard of patient care if health systems do not act.

To address these issues, health systems should take a mindful, strategic approach to adopting technology, tools, and processes to help clinical and technical staff focus on their core responsibilities. This will allow for improved patient care and more efficient clinical operations. Conversely, if not implemented strategically with clinical and technical staff input, automation and technology can hinder productivity.

Health systems are facing a significant shortage of both nurses and BMETs. By 2032, there will be a need for more than 75,000 BMETs according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. BLS projects employment opportunities for nurses will grow 9% faster than all other occupations from 2016 to 2026. It’s critical for health systems to use technology to reduce the administrative burden on nurses and BMETs and retain valuable talent.

A crucial step in improving the lives of nurses and BMETs is establishing a comprehensive inventory of a health system’s equipment. Many hospitals don’t have an accurate account of what equipment they own, where it’s located, or how often it’s used. This leaves staff scrambling to find devices and parts, creating frustration, and taking them away from their most important work.

One study found nurses spent less than one-third of their work time with patients. Standardized inventory management would reduce the time nurses spent locating, managing, and disinfecting medical devices. A comprehensive inventory can also help BMETs by including access to resources like equipment manuals, repair history, and recalls within technician work orders for faster turnaround of medical device repair and maintenance.

Real-time locating systems (RTLS) can benefit nurses and BMETs even further. RTLS technologies can track medical equipment in real time, allowing frontline workers to easily locate and secure essential equipment for immediate patient needs.

Health systems can also leverage technology to help BMETs avoid unexpected equipment breakdowns, allowing them to focus on their primary responsibilities. A predictive work system can combine remote device monitoring, service expertise, and data science to identify and proactively respond to common preventable equipment problems before a failure occurs.

When a predictive work system detects a problem, it sends an order to a BMET with prescriptive repair actions, relevant parts, and service manual information. The BMET can then alert clinicians and quickly make the repair during a break between patients or another convenient time before the device becomes unusable. This can eliminate days of unforeseen equipment downtime, reducing stress and frustration for BMETs, clinicians, and patients while avoiding lost revenue for the health system.

Automated test equipment can save BMETs a significant amount of time and manual work, while reducing the opportunity for human error. Automated test equipment allows technicians to run tests via mobile apps. It’s not necessary to write down or document the results, because they’re automatically fed into the system. With the potential to automate the process, this could eliminate human error, reduce documentation time, and validate that test results are within permissible limits.

Ensure Accessible, Clear Performance Data for Capital Equipment Investments

Health systems will likely continue to deal with narrow operating margins in 2024, which threatens consistent operations of service lines and facilities. At the same time, inflation and supply chain woes are limiting health systems’ purchasing power. While some health systems may use cost-cutting as a blanket approach to manage financial challenges, this threatens their core mission of excellent patient care. Health systems should establish a more strategic approach to managing capital and operating challenges—moving beyond binary decision-making for controlling costs.

If health systems establish and monitor a comprehensive account of their medical equipment inventories, they will be able to maximize the value of the equipment while strengthening the availability of clinical services to patients.

Health systems can use technology to compile an accurate medical device inventory with centralized, data-driven insights such as where a device is located, how often it’s used, when it could need to be replaced, and more. These insights will increase the return on investment from medical devices by maximizing utilization. Hospitals can increase the productivity of underutilized medical devices by transferring them to another department or location where they would be more beneficial, without a significant capital investment.

The ability to track medical equipment in real time through RTLS can also help health systems identify inefficiencies and opportunities to improve utilization. This valuable data will allow leaders to confidently make decisions for the best operational and financial returns.

When health systems have an accurate assessment of their inventory and in-depth data to show what is truly needed, they can also recoup value from aging or surplus medical equipment by selling it and having it removed through an experienced service provider.

Scale Cybersecurity Strategies to Safely Expand Clinical Capabilities

Cyberattacks on healthcare organizations and the damage caused by those attacks are growing at an alarming rate. The number of healthcare cyberattacks grew 86% in 2022 from the year prior, with each attack costing an average of nearly $11 million. TRIMEDX data shows 74% of health systems already have more than half of their medical devices connected to the network. As that number continues to grow, bad actors will have more openings to access a health system’s network if devices are left unprotected. In addition to the extensive possibilities to improve health care, emerging technologies like AI will also bring about new and evolving cybersecurity risks. Plus, the development of technology often outpaces the development of legislation and regulation, putting the responsibility on health systems to stay ahead.

These compounding challenges can keep IT and clinical engineering teams from maintaining visibility and managing organizational risk without the proper tools and processes in place. Health systems with reactive cybersecurity programs will struggle to keep pace with the growing risk of cyberattacks, leading to a greater risk to patient safety and organizational well-being. To safely adapt to advancing network-connectivity and AI-driven healthcare technology, health systems must have a scalable solution to identify and address medical device cybersecurity risks.

One of the most effective ways a health system can prepare for current and future cyber threats is to build a comprehensive, closed-loop medical device cybersecurity program. A health system’s cybersecurity program should include inventory reconciliation, a cyber current state assessment, and a closed-loop action plan aligned with the organization’s risk tolerance and priorities to manage vulnerabilities. This will allow health systems to achieve consistent, measurable improvements in organizational risk.

Partnering with a team who has medical device and cybersecurity expertise, a comprehensive database of software vulnerabilities and patches, and certified processes in place will help level the playing field for health systems contending with growing cybersecurity priorities. Health systems can also reduce the administrative burden for IT and clinical engineering teams by relying on an expert partner with integrated regulatory support services to ensure compliance with complex regulations and developing legislation.

While industry challenges will likely endure through 2024, health systems with a firm hand on the wheel of technology will be prepared to adapt and thrive in this ever-changing environment.

Kristi McDermott serves as the chief operating officer for TRIMEDX. McDermott has been with TRIMEDX since 2018 after the company acquired Aramark Healthcare Technologies and has served as chief commercial officer and president of clinical engineering during that time. She has been in the healthcare industry for over 30 years and in the healthcare technologies industry for 14 years.