It’s a Dangerous Mission

LarkinThere’s a dangerous mission to be done. Some of you may not return. But if you volunteer, you will be a hero and save the professional lives of hundreds of your buddies serving in the biomed trenches. The mission, infiltrate the highest ranks of hospital administration.

We need people to assault Mahogany Row and campaign for the interests of healthcare technology management and support. Volunteers will confront daunting warriors: the institution’s high-ranking executives, influential board members and demanding chiefs of the medical services. These people are often considered the enemy of good clinical engineering practices, an untamable confluence of barbarians who threaten to pillage effective maintenance and safety programs as they satisfy their lust for money and power.

And we need our agents in their camp.

To accomplish this mission, you need proper battle dress. A polo shirt and khakis won’t let you blend in among the suits. The pocket protector? A dead giveaway that you’re not one of them. A hero who wishes to infiltrate the executive circle must make a reasonable investment in good, stylish clothing. Drive past the KMart “reorganiztion” sale and hit that Brooks Brothers outlet 30 miles outside of town. Between hockey scores on ESPN, take a look at what the men and women sitting at the announcers’ desk are wearing. (Sportscasters must have good wardrobe people ‘cause they manage to look hip without becoming outrageous.) Camouflage works by distorting perception. If you are dressed with style when you crash a board meeting, even though the VPs know you are the same technician who fixed the overhead projector last week, they will only see a new, clever expert brimming with fresh ideas when you stand before them in a well-cut suit.

Get shoes, too. Electrically safe, composite-toed waffle stompers mark you for corporate death.

Sure, you may have to give up some of the things you love about being a biomed. The time you spend in capital budget meetings will be time you can’t spend at the bench, troubleshooting a pesky power supply. The hand-eye coordination that made you a star at terminating coaxial cables won’t garner applause from the Preliminary Operating Budget Subcommittee. Nobody said this mission would be fun. You’ve got to suck it up for the greater glory of the biomed corp.

Once you enter the sanctum of catered lunches, you will learn institutional leadership is clueless about the technology found in a modern hospital. They don’t know what it is. They don’t know how much it costs to operate, realistic lifespans, potential for downtime, system interactions, training complications. They are often led to believe a new miracle device, such as wireless charting or operating room automation, will deliver fantastic results, results that lie far beyond what’s possible with the technology available today, something any darned fool with a basic understanding of computers and machinery would realize.

You must be their darned fool.

Executive interactions will expose you to exotic substances and you risk contaminating your comfortable, technology-driven view of healthcare. You will find yourself thinking about community needs, endowment restrictions, reimbursement negotiations, payer mandates. The mission statement might not seem so trite after that. You may find yourself becoming less cynical. As horrible as it may sound, you may come to understand how those uncouth barbarians in the top offices could in good faith consider snake-oil technology, restricted operating budgets and even — gasp — outsourcing! The institution is indebted to many conflicting stakeholders. Working without adequate information on biomedical/clinical engineering and technology management issues, those suits in the leather chairs are only doing what they think is right for their side.

Load up your spreadsheets, trade your screwdriver for a Waterman pen and tighten the laces of your new wingtips. Assault the executive suite and present a case for sound technology management. At the end of this battle, everyone wins.

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