Supporting the Common Good

“We must all hang together or assuredly we will all hang separately.”
— Benjamin Franklin

 I know that old Ben didn’t have clinical engineering in mind when he uttered those now famous words, but it seems like individual clinical engineers and BMETs have been sniping at each other since revolutionary times. This is a kind of cannibalism, given that we are all in the same business. With the new century, we need to adopt new attitudes and new views of the world, for it is changing all around us.

Last fall I participated in the “Future of Health Technology Summit” at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT of Cambridge, Mass.). In part, it was a two-day joy ride for the mind, stretching the bounds of the possible in robotics, cybernetics and genetics. But it also explored issues like “How will we pay the Medicare/

Medicaid bill of the future?”; “Where will we find enough caregivers when the ‘Baby Boomers’ start using the system big-time?”; and “What role will technology have in solving these problems?”

These questions, and the subsequent presentations and discussions, pointed to the need for fundamental shifts in the way we view healthcare and the ways in which technology will be leveraged in that effort. For example, “shifting the focus of care to the home” might seem far-out, but with the advent of ubiquitous computing and the rise of consumer dissatisfaction with the current system, we may see such a paradigm shift sooner than we think.

The need to be open to changes in how we do things and how we think is growing, as the world is shrinking and society is moving faster.

Just consider the number of issues that have taken off in the last three years: medical telemetry; medical errors; coalescing of clinical, imaging, information and communications technologies; LANs; WiFi; cellular technology; robotics; nanotechnology; Web portals; the Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE) initiative; evidenced-based care; to name a few. Budgets continue to get tighter and tighter and everything is more complicated by the threat or the reality of terrorist attacks. The previously well-defined world of BMETs and clinical engineers is taking on a fundamental new shape. Still not convinced? Go to your first HIMSS (Healthcare Information Management Systems Society) meeting and be awed by the IT juggernaut.

It bothers me that after 30-plus years in this business, at a time when we should be asking what will be the technology base in five years, who will I be working for next year, or what technology is coming in next week, we still see more ink spent on disparagement of one group or the other than on ways we can work together for the common good. Clinical engineering, whether you approach it from a technical or an engineering perspective, is an interdisciplinary field — as much art as science.

The good news is that that most CEs and BMETs that I have met are dedicated, talented people who do recognize that by working together, we can accomplish much more than by working apart. I have been privileged over the past two years to participate in initial bridge-building between my organization, the American College of Clinical Engineering (ACCE) and some of the regional biomedical societies. The purpose of these discussions has been to explore areas of common need and to foster a sense of organizational trust.

The next step in the process will occur in June, at the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) conference in Long Beach, Calif. ACCE is hosting a “Clinical Engineering Summit” meeting with the leaders of as many regional biomedical societies as are able to participate. The objective is to further explore our common needs and to establish an agenda on which to build a future. What will that agenda look like? I don’t presume to say. That decision belongs to the participants who represent the established infrastructure of our profession.

I do know that there are pressing needs in the areas of continuing education, advocacy, and the attracting and training of young people to come into the professions. I know that we need better communications across the spectrum of the profession, not just between BMETs and CEs, but between those based in hospitals and those in industry. Finally, I know that these problems can be addressed with greater strength and better economic leverage if we are all pulling our wagons in the same direction — all “hanging together.”

Raymond Peter Zambuto, CCE, FASHE, is president of the American College of Clinical Engineering and CEO of Technology in Medicine Inc. (TiM of Holliston Mass.) His e-mail address is [email protected].