During a packed session of the California Medical Instrumentation Association annual symposium in San Diego January 16, three leaders in the biomedical engineering profession were asked to speculate as to what changes await the healthcare technology profession. Moderated by Marcia Wylie, senior director of biomedical engineering at Scripps Health, the panel of “Future Trends of Healthcare Technology” included Carol Davis-Smith, vice president of clinical technology at Kaiser Permanente; Jennifer Jackson, director of clinical engineering and device integration at Cedars-Sinai; and Izabella Gieras, director of clinical technology at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, Calif.

According to Jackson, the “patient engagement era” has already arrived. Physicians are facing a shifting paradigm in which patients are better informed, more interested in taking control of their data, and more determined to have a say in their healthcare choices. At the same time, the rise of wearable devices and new technologies such as Apple’s iHealth app—as well as new disruptions posed by older technologies like ultrasound—are shaking up the health landscape. “I think there’s a lot of fun out there,” Jackson said. “There’s a lot more choice we have as consumers to help our hospitals save some money.”

The wearables trend is also affecting large organizations like Kaiser, which employs approximately 60,000 physicians across seven distinct geographic regions. With a company so far-flung, establishing procedural structures is paramount, Davis-Smith said. The company has founded innovation teams in each of its seven regions, and launched the Garfield Innovation Center in the Bay area to oversee device integration testing and development. The question of the moment, Davis-Smith said, is “how do we develop, and how do we sustain” promising technologies.

At Huntington Memorial, innovative devices are also driving changes in the job descriptions of the staff repairing them. Gieras noted that her facility increasingly seeks new hires with a hybrid background in both clinical engineering and IT or informatics. “Individuals will have to be molded into these different skill sets,” she said. In fact, they already are—her department has engaged in IT cross-training, and staff in other departments who used to call the IT department now dial clinical engineering directly.