24×7 speaks with AAMI’s HTM Leader of the Year and Chief Do-Gooder Pat Lynch about his dedication to helping other biomedical professionals, both at home and abroad

If you’ve ever received a professional certificate, chances are Pat Lynch signed it. If you’ve ever been involved with a biomedical association, chances are Pat Lynch helped create the organizational structure. If you’ve ever thought of volunteering overseas in an underdeveloped country, chances are Pat Lynch will be a go-to source for advice.

From the time he was a teen repairing television sets to his current position with Global Medical Imaging (GMI), Charlotte, NC, Lynch has been enthusiastic, passionate, and purposeful in his goal of helping others and sharing his acquired knowledge. It’s this combination of drive and altruism that made Lynch a logical choice for AAMI’s 27th HTM Leader of the Year. The association bestowed its honor on Lynch at its annual meeting last June in Philadelphia.

 Educational Underpinnings

With an AAS in electrical engineering technology from Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, NC, Lynch initially gained hands-on experience working at companies such as Spacelabs, where he repaired medical monitoring equipment. Subsequently, he accepted a position with SunHealth and worked as a BMET at Charlotte Memorial Hospital, becoming a certified biomedical equipment technician in 1979.

Lynch moved up the ranks quickly. At age 26, he became director of clinical engineering for the hospital, running the biomedical program at the 901-bed facility. Still hungry for more knowledge, he also earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering technology, followed by an MBA.

When SunHealth offered him a corporate position developing policies and procedures, providing operations support, and doing quality assurance audits, he left Charlotte Memorial Hospital. From 1985 to 1996, Lynch served as SunHealth’s regional director for a seven-state region, spending a significant amount of time living out of a suitcase. After 11 years, he decided to turn in his frequent flyer card and accepted an in-house job at Northside Hospital in Atlanta. Always the perpetual student, he became a certified clinical engineer during this time.

Lynch’s penchant for learning didn’t stop there. In 2011, he became a certified professional in healthcare information and management systems (CPHIMS), which allows him to evaluate whether this certification would be worthwhile for other biomeds to pursue. “It is,” he asserts. Subsequently, he became a certified healthcare technology specialist, which emphasizes practice workflow and is closely related to the CPHIMS.

The list of credentials behind Lynch’s name testifies to his devotion and passion for education, which he calls “essential” for HTM professionals. He explains that the complex technical aspect of this professional field demands a thorough understanding of physics and electricity. However, Lynch cautions others in search of additional education to investigate programs thoroughly before committing to any. “Unfortunately, many of these are essentially business schools, which seem to be trying to cash in on the anticipated explosion of jobs in this area. They may have a senior faculty [member] who does much of the design, but has never worked in a US hospital.” Many programs also underestimate the value and need for hands-on equipment repair practice and training. “I, for one, would never hire an entry-level technician who had never taken the cover off a machine or actually made a repair,” he says.

Before joining GMI in 2007, Lynch completed a 2-year stint as regional director for TriMedx in Indianapolis. At GMI, he plays a significantly different role, in spite of his impressive educational background and in-depth managerial and corporation experience. “I have very little to do with corporate operations. My job is to literally be ‘Chief Do-Gooder,’?” he says. While GMI focuses on medical ultrasound and nuclear medicine equipment, Lynch concentrates primarily on external relations and revenue-producing activities for the company, serving as goodwill ambassador to the biomedical industry and to hospitals. He rarely charges for his services, but aims to help solve problems and spread goodwill from his company. “My entire workweek is filled with nothing stressful or anxiety-producing. It is truly a position that can only be described as a full-time job of doing favors and helping others. It has to be one of the most fulfilling jobs ever,” Lynch says.

“My job is to mentor, lecture, write, and work tirelessly to solve the problems in health technology management that people who work real jobs do not have the time to do,” Lynch explains. “Thanks to GMI, I have the time to follow national events, talk to lots of people, and cobble together solutions for many of the problems facing HTM professionals today.” His frequent interaction with industry thought leaders enables him to create workable solutions to health technology management challenges.

Each year, Lynch delivers approximately 50 presentations at regional and national conferences. He also writes a daily blog and articles for three different trade magazines on biomedical topics. Active in discussion groups in the biomedical industry, he has participated three times in the “Future Forum,” a think tank assembled by the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) that periodically examines the future of the profession and the effectiveness of biomedical technicians.

According to Lynch, the first of these forums proved to be the most productive. It was at that meeting that the decision was made to encourage the profession to adopt the name “healthcare technology management.” The new term, Lynch says, “is more accurately descriptive of what we do. It’s more inviting to information technology professionals and engineers who repair equipment in hospitals.” He adds that AAMI has “seen a jump in membership since the name change.”

Strength in Numbers

Early in his career, as the biomedical field began to grow, Lynch realized the important role associations could play in promoting the profession. In 1980, Lynch served as the first president of the North Carolina Biomedical Association. “I was fortunate to see how a strong local organization could benefit everyone who touches it. The BMETs could share techniques, sources, information, and shortcuts, making them better than they could be individually,” he says, citing a win-win-win outcome. “The hospitals gain a source of knowledge [in areas] where their employees can be smarter and more creative than working alone. The patients and healthcare generally benefit from increased knowledge, safety, and productivity of these amazing and talented technicians, engineers, and managers.”

Lynch has been instrumental in forming 15 biomedical associations. His organizational expertise helps fledgling groups survive the pain points that accompany forming a viable structure, such as creating by-laws, holding elections, incorporating, filing for IRS tax-exempt status, opening a bank account, and creating a website. “I’ve been doing this for nearly 35 years and have developed a simple template. Filing for nonprofit status and everything that involves can be done within 3 weeks,” he notes. Currently, more than 40 professional associations exist, and Lynch is a member of every one.

When any of the associations fail, Lynch conducts a thorough evaluation to find out why. “I do a forensic analysis,” he says, reporting that when an association goes out of business after a few years, the original structure was most likely flawed. Lynch points out that when three or four strong, passionate individuals run an organization, discouraging new leaders, burnout inevitably leaves the association with no other options but to shut down operations.

To avoid such situations, Lynch created an organizational system that involves more than four or five individuals and inserts by-laws that encourage new members to join and consider leadership roles. He also trains and educates those who would hold board positions, a strategy that has proven to be very successful.

Some biomedical professionals might question the need for more associations. However, Lynch firmly believes that technicians in hospital settings truly need representation in a cohesive model that helps develop strategies and relationships with customers. “We need professional associations to serve as a forum to share information. We can talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly. We know the good customers to support, and we can shun the bad customers,” Lynch asserts.

 Traveling Man

If there’s one word missing from Lynch’s vocabulary, it’s “No.” A simple request for his services in Africa, Cuba, Central America, or other far-away places usually results in his picking up his suitcase and going. Unlike his earlier travel experiences, these jaunts are tantamount to medical missions. “If someone wants my help and I am capable, I will do it. If my knowledge and skills are of use to someone—no matter where they are—I will do my very best to help,” he says. “I have not sought overseas engagements, but when asked, I am eager to go. And I learn so much about myself, my world, and my profession in the process.”

For example, the Pan American Health Organization invited Lynch to teach at a biomedical conference in Havana, Cuba. He has worked with the minister of health in Haiti to educate biomedical technicians in that country, and he has trained locals in Honduras to repair equipment. Lynch points out that, although organizations and groups send equipment to developing countries, the technicians there have little understanding of the devices.

“Ninety percent of the techs in third world countries don’t understand how to operate 80% of the donated medical equipment. And within 1 year, most of the equipment doesn’t work,” Lynch reports. Fortunately, the repairs are mostly minor, but Lynch notes that these countries don’t have a Home Depot or Lowe’s on every corner, so buying supplies and tools and replacing parts is challenging.

To alleviate the situation, Lynch launched Biomeds Without Borders, a nonprofit organization in South Carolina that collects used test equipment and hand tools, such as screwdrivers, pliers, drill bits, sockets, and wrenches. Recently, Lynch packed
400 pounds of equipment, which will make its way to medical facilities in Guatemala.

Lynch is highly involved with the Heineman Foundation of Charlotte, a partner of the Carolinas HealthCare System. Founded by renowned cardio-thoracic surgeon Francis Robicsek, MD, the Foundation represents Robicsek’s determination to improve the health of citizens in Central America, where he has been operating since the 1950s.

The International Medical Outreach program, an outgrowth of the Foundation, supplies countries with medical equipment, computers, supplies, furniture, and whatever else a hospital needs to run. “I help in the pre-shipment testing. I also travel to Central America to provide training, tools, and repair services,” Lynch says.

Culture Clash

Although Lynch finds his overseas adventures fulfilling and worthwhile, he admits there are some challenges to working in a foreign country, specifically the language and the culture. “I teach in French- and Spanish-speaking countries. I don’t speak the language, but use a full-time interpreter,” he says. While this arrangement works relatively well, Lynch admits it inhibits effective two-way communication. “I can’t tell a lot about the other person’s reaction. I don’t always know if the person is motivated or grasps what I’m saying.”

Cultural differences can also be frustrating at times. Most of the hospitals in developing countries are open-air facilities. “There is no air conditioning, and you need ventilation to keep cool, so the windows have no glass,” Lynch explains. “Flying insects and animals are a problem. They like to have chickens in the hospital to keep the bug population down. And they like to have cats around to keep the bird population down.”

Additionally, developing countries embrace a different attitude when it comes to caring for equipment. “In the United States, biomeds take it personally if the equipment does not operate properly. It’s our job to fix it,” Lynch notes, adding that every piece of equipment on the hospital floor is accounted for and fully operational. Devices that are not working fully are sent immediately to the biomedical department for repair.

“But repair people [in developing countries] have no sense of taking ownership,” Lynch asserts, pointing out that equipment—broken or not—often remains on the floor. “The problem is, you don’t know what works and what doesn’t. There’s no culture of putting notes on broken equipment. This compromises patient care.” He surmises that because these countries operate from a baseline of having nothing, “anything above zero for them is an improvement.”

Lynch encourages other biomedical technicians to give volunteering a try. “Helping others is the best way to discover who we really are. Giving assistance to someone who cannot possibly return the favor is one of the most selfless things one can do. Volunteering makes you appreciate what you have, things you have access to,” he says.

Moreover, American biomeds and imaging engineers have skill sets worth sharing, Lynch points out. “We have very deep technical knowledge about hundreds or thousands of types of medical equipment. The breadth and depth is unequalled anywhere in the world,” he says. “It is far rarer than surgical skills or medical knowledge. And I believe it is the right thing to do to spread some of our wealth to others.”

Lynch may be Chief Do-Gooder for GMI, but his impact is much broader. His goodwill efforts and eagerness to share his technical knowledge and expertise are having a positive effect on biomeds—and ultimately, the general population—on a global scale. 24×7

Phyllis Hanlon is a contributor to 24×7. For more information, contact editorial director John Bethune at [email protected].