More and more, medical instrumentation is commonly connected to a computer network of some kind. The network could include a server, or possibly just be used to interconnect medical devices. For years, biomedical employers have expressed their need for biomedical equipment technicians (BMETs) with formal training in computer networking and also in how the networks relate to biomedical instrumentation. Previously, BMETs were able to get by with limited training in computer networking, but now they will have greater difficulty without comprehensive training on medical systems and the associated computer network. What was once a competency that “would be nice” is now a necessity. Many of the existing BMETs in hospitals have had limited, if any, training in computer networking. They are desperate for formal training in this area that is easily accessible, affordable, and pertinent to biomedical applications.
Computer networking is one recent addition to many biomedical curriculums. Because of this, recent biomedical graduates are generally schooled in the areas of computer networking, networking within the hospital environment, and network communications, as well as in the traditional areas of biomedical instrumentation, electronics, and writing.
Employers are asking for BMETs with not only networking experience, but experience in several other areas, including Health Level Seven (HL7), DICOM, and experience in communications with charting and document systems.
The HL7 and DICOM Web sites can help biomeds learn more about the protocols that are used in these systems.
According to its Web site, HL7 is one of several American National Standards Institute (ANSI)-accredited Standards Developing Organizations (SDOs) operating in the health care arena. Most SDOs produce standards (sometimes called specifications or protocols) for a particular health care domain such as medical devices, imaging, pharmacy, or insurance (claims processing) transactions. HL7’s domain reigns over clinical and administrative data.
The DICOM site states that it is a global IT standard that is used in virtually all hospitals worldwide. Its current structure, developed in 1993, is designed to ensure the interoperability of systems used to produce, store, display, process, send, retrieve, query, or print medical images and derived structured documents, as well as to manage related workflow.
Collaborative Groups To meet the other evolving training needs, BMETs will find that numerous training methods are offered, such as collaborative groups and biomedical associations, that enable students to pick what best fits the needs of their hospital or company, and their personal training needs, learning style, and family obligations.
In February 2008, three professional biomedical organizations—the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI), the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), and the American College of Clinical Engineering (ACCE)—joined forces to create the Clinical Engineering/IT community (CE-IT). It has recently launched a collaborative Web site designed to pool clinical engineering and information technology resources.
Another example of a collaborative group is the HIMSS-Cisco users group for Connected Health. According to its Web site, this group is dedicated to sharing best practices for using information to drive better health care. Its Web site states that as a Connected Health member you “gain access to Cisco health care and technology experts and have a gathering place to pose questions, offer suggestions, and obtain new information about networking, solutions, products, and innovations.”
Local biomedical societies have also gotten involved in educating their members in computer networking. These local and national biomedical societies and organizations offer learning opportunities at meetings as well as through Webinars, teleconferences, CD-based education, and classroom instruction. The resources section of AAMI’s Web site can assist you in finding biomedical associations that provide this type of training.
Individual manufacturers such as Cisco, Microsoft, and Novell offer training specific to their products. Although their products may be used in biomedical applications, these companies typically do not offer specific training in the biomedical area.
Companies such as General Electric (GE), specifically GE Healthcare, offer integrated training that includes IT as well as biomedical instrumentation in the same course. GE is a CompTIA (Computing Technology Industry Association) learning alliance partner specializing in the application of IT concepts in the medical environment.
Another approach to training is online or DVD-based training that would allow the student to complete the classes at a time that is convenient to him/her. In addition to medical device companies and equipment-specific companies, there are companies specializing in this type of training such as Training Planet.
THE COLLEGE ROUTE
As I have mentioned in previous articles in this magazine, biomedical programs in local colleges today tend to look different from how they did even 10 years ago. The basics are all the same: math, English, writing, physics, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, electronics, biomedical instrumentation, and usually a cooperative education or internship experience. The difference is that now there are additional courses in computer networking and medical systems involving computer networks. These systems often include a computer network, which accommodates computer control of the medical device. With these changes in place, many experienced BMETs are electing to return to college to update their training. A very popular area for additional training is IT, including computer networking.
BMETs can also learn the basics of networking by taking an introductory computer networking class. Students choosing this pathway also may elect to complete additional coursework leading to A+ certification or possibly Network+ certification offered through CompTIA.
Many of the college programs include distance education courses in their curriculums. With some of these courses, students never set foot in a classroom. Others are hybrid courses that incorporate a combination of classroom instruction and laboratory work with an online component. These courses are very popular since one of the obvious advantages to this approach is the accessibility of this type of course to a diverse student group. It provides an opportunity to complete additional studies while maintaining a full-time job. These hybrid courses tend to work well in the computer networking area as well as in biomedical instrumentation since they provide live hands-on training while limiting the amount of time that is required on-site by providing an online portion of the course.
Cooperative education experiences are evolving, too, and some of the hospitals participating in cooperative education programs are including an experience involving computer networking.
Another approach for employers to address these IT needs is to hire software and networking specialists in biomedical departments with the intention of providing them with additional training in the area of biomedical instrumentation and electronics.
Steven J. Yelton, PE, BSEE, AAS, is a department chair in the Center for Innovative Technologies at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College; and is a member of AAMI’s board of directors and the Technology Management Council Executive Committee. For more information, contact .
All of the organizations listed in the article provide information in their Web sites (listed below) that will assist you in gaining knowledge or locating training.
Health Level Seven, or HL7: www.hl7.org
CE-IT Community: www.ceitcollaboration.org
HIMSS-Cisco users group for Connected Health: www.communityforconnectedhealth.org
GE IT Training: www.gehealthcare.com/usen/education/it_certification/index.html
Training Planet: www.trainingplanet.com/index.html
A+ certification: certification.comptia.org/a/default.aspx
Offered through CompTIA, The Computing Technology Industry Association;
Network+ certification: certification.comptia.org/network/
Offered through CompTIA; and Educational Links: www.aami.org/resources/education/ed.map.html.