Time to Make Your Own Luck

Someone needs to take charge; to bring order to the chaos; to assess needs and priorities; to prevent unnecessary loss of life.

If you talk to folks in our industry and read the postings from the on-line discussion groups, it’s clear there are some widespread frustrations, mostly related to a lack of recognition/respect/opportunity/reward. “The doctors and clinical staff don’t understand what we do. They don’t respect us. They don’t fully utilize our talents. We’re undercompensated.”

Much of the healthcare industry doesn’t know who we are or what we’re about. Mention “biomedical engineering” to many folks and they think you clone sheep.

I’ll make a bold prediction: It’s going to get better. (Bear in mind that I was offered four St. Louis Rams season tickets in August 1999 and turned them down as undesirable. So much for my predictive powers.)

Here’s why I think the situation will improve: Technology. Here’s how it will improve: We’ll take the bull by the horns and make it better. No sitting around. No waiting for someone else to do it. It will come from proactive, take-charge, get-the-heck-out-of-my-way activity.

But what activity? What direction do 

we go? The trend is away from “maintenance” (although equipment maintenance certainly is a core activity and will continue to be very important) and toward “technology management”; adding value to the equipment; advising the clinical staff on usage, acquisition, and safety; ensuring that the technology has a longer life, and a more effective life. The new goal is reducing costs — not by pinching pennies, but through careful planning and decision making.

Now, many departments and ISOs are already operating at this level. But many are not. Many are stuck in old methods, doing things the way they’ve always been done. Nobody ever questioned it or expected otherwise. How do you find out if what you’re doing wrong, and what others are doing right? The best way I know is to simply look around. Get out of your office. Attend some conferences. Ask questions. Learn from others.

“Best Practices” is a somewhat overused but very descriptive term. It simply refers to ideas worthy of being borrowed. So borrow some ideas. Heck, steal ‘em if you have to!

Now, back to my prediction that biomedical/clinical engineering will finally earn recognition as an invaluable, indispensable spoke in the healthcare wheel.

I believe that the profile of our work will increase by sheer force of momentum. Technology and medical breakthroughs and computers and information are all so intertwined and interdependent that folks who understand technology can’t help but become sought after for advice. It’s almost automatic, but we shouldn’t cool our heels until it happens.

Let me illustrate with a story.

A colonel and a captain are having dinner at the officers’ club. The colonel is an infantryman and the captain is a medical doctor. Suddenly, there’s an explosion in the kitchen. It’s pandemonium. People are injured everywhere. Someone needs to take charge; to bring order to the chaos; to assess needs and priorities; to prevent unnecessary loss of life. Who is the person who is suddenly in charge? Not the colonel, despite the rank. It’s the junior officer, the doctor.

We are in much the same situation. Our emergency is the explosion of technology entering the medical marketplace. Someone needs to take charge; to bring order to the chaos; to assess needs and priorities; to prevent unnecessary loss of money, time and life.

Nobody will bestow this responsibility on you. You’ve got to look around, recognize the opportunity, then seize the day!

I’m not recommending bullying other department heads, launching machiavellian power struggles or marching for shorter hours or more pay. I’m saying use your unique talents and training to take you — us — where the industry needs to go. The road between here and there is paved with information sharing and collaboration, with learning and teaching, and with best practices.

It’s been said that “luck’ is what happens when opportunity and preparedness come together. Today, in this industry, opportunity is present in great abundance. We need to catch up on our preparedness. Then, as the two come together, it will become clear that the best times for the biomedical field lie before us.

Bill Collier is president of BC Group International Inc. (St. Louis), a biomedical test equipment distribution and service company. E-mail: bcollier@bcgroupintl.com