John Bethune?As the 24×7 editorial staff put together the January 2015 print issue of the magazine, we decided to look ahead at the year to come and what challenges and opportunities healthcare technology management departments might expect to encounter. After interviewing biomedical and clinical engineers from across the United States, contributing writer Phyllis Hanlon found a broad consensus in the profession about the HTM outlook for 2015: More of the same, only more intense. You can read the details in her article.

I heard the same message from two of 24×7’s editorial advisory board members: Ken Olbrish, MSBE, senior product manager for Arthrex California Technology, Santa Barbara, Calif, and Wayne Hibbs, CCE, principal at BSA LifeStructures, Indianapolis. As Olbrish put it, “The challenges faced by HTM departments in 2015 are not new challenges, but they are ones that are continuing to become more prominent in the profession.”

Olbrish sees four key challenges to the discipline, all echoed in Hanlon’s article. First, he says, “HTM departments need to do more with less. They have less money available, which in turn means less staff, less training, and less equipment. And yet, HTM departments are being asked to do more than ever with those limited resources.”

Second, he continues, is the challenge posed by the growing importance of networked technology: “HTM resources are being asked more and more to integrate with IT. Not only does this mean that they must work more closely than ever with their IT counterparts, but it also means that they themselves must become much more IT savvy, as nearly every device they touch these days has some IT components to them.”

This gives rise to Olbrish’s third point, involving systems thinking: “As more and more devices become integrated into larger networks and systems, HTM departments must become more aware of the concept of systems. They must start to look beyond the current problem they face or the device they service, and recognize how even small changes in a device can have a broader impact on the overall healthcare environment they support.”

Finally, Olbrish says, “HTM departments are faced with the prospect of a potentially diminishing profession. As hospitals become more cost-conscious and IT-focused, they often put money and resources into IT at the expense of departments like HTM. Again, this ties into the initial point noted above.”

Wayne Hibbs underscored another point raised in Hanlon’s article. HTM managers, he stressed, “must be involved in the evaluation and acquisition process of healthcare technology.” As he explained, “We have known this for years, but we have not sold our benefits to the financial and clinical decision-makers. When we demonstrate that our understanding of life cycle cost, return on investment, and patient outcomes are as important to the enterprise as mean time between failure or annual downtime, we will have more input on controlling of those challenges.”

When asked about the key challenges for HTM departments in 2015, Hibbs pointed out one topic not raised in Hanlon’s article, but addressed prominently elsewhere this month in Chris Hayhurst’s story on Ebola and HTM: “the hospital-wide challenge of infection control.” As Hibbs puts it, “HTM staff must understand infection control as well as we do troubleshooting and repair before we start our work. We have a great responsibility anytime we deal with a service problem that we do not inadvertently cross-contaminate our workspace or other items we are working on at the same time.”

He adds that while some may see this imperative as a result of the recent Ebola crisis, it in fact “started much before Ebola and has a much wider influence due to the many hospital-based infections that we work around every day. If we treated everything we worked on as if it came from an Ebola isolation area, the rate of MRSA, C. diff, VRE, rotavirus, and a host of other hospital-centered bugs would decrease. And that decrease in infections [would lead to] a direct decrease in healthcare costs.”

From the 24×7 poll of HTM professionals, it is clear that the challenges they face in 2015 are considerable. But it is just as evident from our conversations with them that the leaders of the profession are resolved and equipped to address them. 24×7

John Bethune is editorial director of 24×7. He can be reached at [email protected].