Photo of Deborah Reuter

Deborah Reuter

In June 2014, the American Association for Medical Instrumentation launched AAMI University, an online hub intended as a clearinghouse for all the organization’s educational programs. In addition to serving as the repository for hundreds of past and current webinars, the site advertises upcoming live events and provides on-demand online learning opportunities. To date, some 2,100 members have already created profiles on the site.

The project, first proposed 4 years ago, comes at a time when biomeds are under increasing pressure to justify their proficiencies. “We wanted to centralize all of AAMI’s education under one umbrella,” says Deborah Reuter, senior vice president of education for AAMI. “Professional development is such a huge part of our members’ lives—it’s a way that they can show their competencies, through training and certification. We wanted to really make that a focus.”

The content appeals to AAMI’s two key membership bases—medical device manufacturers and HTM professionals. AAMI has historically offered fewer resources for the latter group, apart from its annual conference and webinars. Reuter says the association wants to improve its materials for those members. Down the road, the organization may also explore courses to help nurses, IT staff, and C-suite executives work with HTM to ensure patient safety.

The More Education, the Better

The site currently offers three online learning opportunities, with seven more web-based courses planned for launch throughout 2015 and in early 2016. Among the current offerings are online programs for industry personnel about the document and records requirements of the FDA’s quality system regulation and how to navigate the premarket submission process. An online program for sterile processing departments on preparing for accreditation is also available.

HTM online courses under development include training for systems engineering and health IT, and an e-version of a 1-day program AAMI developed in partnership with the Healthcare Technology Foundation on managing risk for hospital-based integrated systems that deals with ISO 80000-1. A Biomed 101 class will cover the fundamentals of biology and physiology, provide an overview of essential equipment, and explain how those devices integrate in a hospital environment. According to Reuter, the Biomed 101 class is equally useful as a primer for new biomeds or a refresher for seasoned clinical engineers who want to demonstrate professional development to managers.

“On-the-job training is great, but you really need some core competencies. AAMI develops those,” Reuter says. “Some kind of formal program—whether it be through a university, AAMI, or any other group—really reinforces effective strengths and expertise for an HTM to have. The more education, the better.”

Quality-Certified

But instead of simply offering classes ad hoc, AAMI is working on a more systematic approach, particularly for its quality system course selection. “We wanted to make our attendees’ training more meaningful by having them acquire expertise in a particular area,” Reuter says.

AAMI has launched a quality engineer certificate for industry members that incorporates in-person courses, e-learning, and webinars. Additional certificates for quality managers, risk managers, and software engineers are in process. In 2015, the organization plans to introduce a quality systems manager certification for upper-level quality systems professionals and another for healthcare technology managers.

Most courses are designed as e-learning modules that allow users to work at their own pace while receiving regular testing to verify understanding.

“The assessment-based certificates show that at the end of a series of modules or a course, you have learned something,” says Jan paul Miller, director of certification programs for AAMI. “It’s not just a certificate of attendance. That’s where the certificate-based program—which is essentially for students who want to show knowledge of a specific field of study—really gets its power. This is just as rich and powerful as a university degree.”

Looking to the Experts

When it comes to developing curricula, AAMI leans on content matter experts—on its board and committees, and from its annual conference speaker roster—to identify and communicate essential knowledge. “We have a strong volunteer base, so we know a lot of players who can help us and be the developers,” Reuter says. “We also have experts who review the materials so there is a consensus on what is being taught.”

In addition to its self-guided learning modules, AAMI might eventually offer weekly sessions of web-based coursework presided over by an instructor. Reuter also wants to explore inviting subject matter experts to participate in online forums or listservs to answer questions from participants.

“There’s so much education we want to develop, and it’s just a matter of bandwidth,” she says. “It takes a lot of resources financially, and staff, to put together any type of live course or e-learning course. I want to do so much more, and it’s slower than I had anticipated.”

A revamped class focused on standard 13485 on quality management systems is currently being planned for in-person instruction near AAMI’s office in Arlington, Va. The association also collaborates with the FDA on certain courses, and is exploring partnerships with other organizations that would enable the parties to exchange relevant learning materials.

And the AAMI board recently voted to allow the association to become a lead society for the Accrediting Body for Engineering Technologies, leading the academic discipline of biomedical engineering technology. In addition, a newly established credentialing institute, expected to be up and running next year, will manage AAMI’s expanding certification and accreditation activities over the coming years.

All these activities should help AAMI support one of its key populations—clinical engineers and HTM professionals.

“This is such a great group of folks that really wants to do good,” Reuter says. “They want to be educated and do the job right.” 24×7

Jenny Lower is 24×7’s associate editor. Contact her at jlower@allied360.com