A Burning for Learning

LarkinWhy should the neighborhood pornographer have better technology than three of the largest biomed groups in the country?

Hello Richmond. Hello Lynchburg. Hello Durham. Hello Hartford. You’re on the air!

The first-ever hook-up between the North Carolina Biomedical Association (NCBA), the Virginia Biomedical Association (VBA) and the New England Society of Clinical Engineering (NESCE) went live at noon on March 28. My bearded countenance filled screens in designated conference rooms along the Eastern Seaboard and for the next hour, we saturated ISDN lines with discussions about curricula for the future.

Humans are naturally curious and that innate curiosity becomes an insatiable yearning among people who work in the healthcare technology management, service and support industry. Local biomed groups try to fill the need on their own, but there’s only so many times you can tap the local patient monitoring salesman for a presentation. NCBA, VBA and NESCE are three groups with great track records when it comes to providing education. Each does it a little differently, but they all wanted to do better. So with a little ramrodding by NECSE’s David Francour, a plan was hatched during the annual NCBA Symposium last December to go high tech.

I mean, after all, why should the neighborhood pornographer have better technology than three of the largest biomed groups in the country?

A lot of credit for the success of “A burning for learning” goes to the Biomedical Engineering staff at Hartford Hospital. The facility possessed an impressive conference room, wired to the hilt and never used. John Elwood and Don Woods offered to take on the project and over the course of two months, became Hartford’s new experts in broadband conferencing. (In fact, seizing the opportunity, the biomed department is now in charge of the video system!)

The first challenge was learning how the three groups attack education. NECSE holds monthly evening meetings, each offering a bit of training, leading up to an annual symposium. NCBA meets at lunchtime, but that’s only so the board can plan the annual symposium where most activities occur. VBA has a little of both.

We determined that there are four program types that videoconferencing is qualified to bring to the members of these three local biomed associations:

There are topics, particularly in technology management and device safety, where the expert consultant must charge a fee that is more than a single association can afford. Pooling resources, several local groups acting together could pay for a really top-notch videoconference.

Let’s not forget the BMETs. Brian Poplin of NCBA observed, “We want to make sure we are providing opportunities for the whole department. There may only be one manager and one next-in-line who need management-type courses. In most cases there are a lot of mid-level technicians and entry-level technicians that still need technical training.”

Manufacturer’s service education is a good example where it’s not feasible to fly the manufacturer’s expert to three or more locations, each with a handful of students. Videoconferencing is the best way to assemble a sizeable audience, and the experts can arrive electronically.

Our industry is often criticized for moving slower than a snail on morphine. Face it, we have unresolved issues that go back to the mid-1970s. When issues of regional importance arise — such as patient safety or sphygmomanometer maintenance doubts — consensus building can be as close as the next videoconference.

Finally, videoconferencing may offer us opportunities to stretch our minds by joining colleagues in other healthcare disciplines — the nurses, risk managers, radiology technicians, and more — to create sessions of broader interest. We may also wish to look outside healthcare, to senior citizens’ groups and healthcare advocacy organizations who would benefit from our views on technology-related healthcare topics that challenge society.

One thing we learned will not work: you can’t push pizza through an ISDN line. There’s still no substitute for the face-to-face socializing that occurs each year at local and national events. Videoconferencing can augment a symposium, but it will never eliminate one.

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