Top Care for the Most Fragile Patients

Widely regarded as the top pediatric research and treatment facility in the United States, Memphis, Tenn.-based St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital regularly sees the worst of the worst patients. Perhaps what sets St. Jude apart the most, however, isn’t its delicate patient population—cancer patients account for the majority of St. Jude visitors—but the hospital’s unique approach to care. At St. Jude, patients never receive a bill for treatment, despite the hospital costing nearly $2.8 million a day to run.

Operating St. Jude—and maintaining all the top technologies housed at the hospital—is no doubt a massive undertaking, and it’s one the facility’s biomedical engineering department contributes greatly to. Below, Greg Joyner, director of biomedical engineering at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, discusses the challenges of working in such a unique environment and reveals how the team is collaborating with IT to improve the delivery of care.

24×7 Magazine: Can you please tell us a little bit about your biomedical engineering team and the workload you handle?

Greg Joyner: Biomedical engineering is an institutional resource that blends traditional engineering and medicine to advance healthcare through creating innovative devices and service procedures. The department is responsible for coordinating and maintaining St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital’s equipment management program. We have 13 employees in our group: eight clinical engineers, two fabricators, and three administrative personnel. And our database contains more than 12,000 research devices and 5,400 clinical devices that we help support and maintain.

Biomedical engineering instrumentation fabricators James Owens (foreground) and Robert Townsend work on a project in the department's Machine Shop.

Biomedical engineering instrumentation fabricators James Owens (front) and Robert Townsend work on a project in the department’s Machine Shop.

The department has a fabrication shop supporting both research and clinical efforts through creative design, which is unique to St. Jude. The BME machine shop works with scientists and clinicians to fabricate custom precision parts, which are often not available through vendor purchase.

24×7: How has your department evolved over the past few years, and how do you anticipate it evolving even more in the future?

Joyner: With the transition of the hospital system to an electronic medical record, integrating medical equipment has become increasingly important. Our department provides computer and network training for our engineers to ease this process. Also, rapidly advancing technologies and the demand for medical equipment have introduced cybersecurity challenges that have called for increased collaboration with information technology (IT) experts.

24×7Does St. Jude’s patient population—medically fragile children—present unique challenges to the biomedical engineering team?

Joyner: Pediatric cancer patients often undergo treatment for extended periods of time, which can bring additional challenges—including issues with maintaining equipment and logistics—as our patients are often treated on an outpatient basis.

24×7: How does the biomedical engineering team work with IT department members to promote device security and combat cyber threats?

Joyner: We are collaborating more and more with the IT department. We have placed an increased importance on cybersecurity, and are undergoing an audit process for our medical equipment. We’re also continuing to monitor and update our policies and procedures, [as needed].

24×7: What would members of your biomedical engineering team say are the greatest issues currently affecting the healthcare technology management community?

Joyner: [HTM] is an exciting and ever-changing field. Some of the upcoming challenges include the constantly changing codes and standards by regulatory agencies—and cybersecurity will have a big impact on the HTM community in the foreseeable future.

24×7: What else do you want 24×7 Magazine readers to know about your biomedical engineering department?

Joyner: It takes a strong group to make sure that our department is able to creatively and efficiently support clinical and research equipment. The work of our engineering department and other hospital teams save [St. Jude] time and money. Finally, our work helps doctors and scientists efficiently and effectively pursue our hospital’s mission of advancing cures for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment.