The Biomed Curriculum Must Adapt To the New Healthcare Technology Management Paradigm

By Martin Smith, MSETM

Martin-Smithx150Biomedical equipment repair as a profession has evolved significantly over the past decade. The advent of federally mandated process improvement initiatives, such as the HITECH act and “Meaningful Use,” has blurred the line between the traditional biomedical repair technician and the new hybrid expert in a combination of information technology, health informatics, medical equipment repair, and integration.

In addition, with Medicare and Medicaid contributions decreasing, healthcare systems across the nation are having to do more with less. As such, they are calling upon existing resources to help in bringing about the changes necessary to increase their operational effectiveness and successfully meet the government’s criteria. The end goal is to maximize the federal incentives and Medicaid payments they receive to relieve some of the financial burden.

Time for an Upgrade

As more and more biomedical engineering departments are being asked to bring their knowledge and experience to the table, it is becoming apparent that the traditional training and curriculum may be due for an upgrade as well. Programs typically focusing on the “nuts and bolts” of the medical devices will need to start integrating more classes that improve soft skills, critical thinking, and project management. Although AC and DC theory will still be important, courses on networking—both wired and wireless—and systems repair will need to be core curriculum.

As with many typical 2-year degrees, it will be important to establish a strong base from which biomeds can grow and prosper. This is especially the case as they move forward with more advanced degrees and training.

Within 4-year degree programs, students should begin to receive training on cross-functional teams and small group leadership. It will be vitally important to foster a sense of self-dependency while still engaging in collaborative thinking. These skills will be critical as biomeds work with technicians, nurses, and managers across the system on teams and committees to come up with solutions to what are often complex and multifaceted problems. They will need to learn how to communicate their technical expertise to nontechnical team members without confusing them. Our skills as “engineers” will be in high demand as we use what we know to help “construct” a feasible solution to the technological issues facing healthcare organizations today.

Retraining

So far, I have only addressed the training of new biomeds. What about those who have already been in the field for a while? The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) requires that anyone servicing medical equipment be qualified and that the facility offer programs of continuing education to those personnel. Integrating these same types of courses into the continuing education program will help prepare the current generation of biomeds for the changes we are facing and keep us from becoming technically obsolete. Seminars, conventions, and reimbursable college courses are just a few ways to do this.

Ultimately, health systems should see such training expenses as an operational investment. Biomedical engineering managers or directors should make sure that they set aside money for this in their annual operating budget as well. In addition to the obvious benefits, technicians themselves will feel more valuable to the organization. In theory, that should increase their intrinsic motivation, and thus improve their job performance.

Departments should also integrate short training classes into their day-to-day functions, as time allows. Some examples include reviewing manufacturer’s literature, discussing current trends in healthcare technology management (HTM), and even having guests from other departments discuss HTM from their perspective. Hypothetically speaking, if a department held a 30-minute class once a week, they would have around 26 hours for the year. Some of these courses could even be applied toward certification renewal.

Action Steps

So how do we make this happen? First, I would begin in-house. Look at the topics that your staff have identified as areas of improvement, and begin preparing courses. Identify your subject matter experts, and enlist their help.

Go outside your department, and ask one of your counterparts in the informatics department to come to your department and give a short class on how patient data gets from the port in the wall to the central electronic medical records (EMR). Although you may never touch the EMR, knowing how it plays into the overall picture will help you immensely when troubleshooting a vital signs monitor whose data is not making it to the EMR. Begin building that cross-functional mentality that will help your team see the hospital as a system and understand how their involvement enables other departments to work more effectively.

I would also encourage my staff to review trade journals and magazines as a source of self-development. Some of the topics for your classes can be taken directly out of those periodicals and don’t always have to be technical in nature.

Next, look at training outside the workplace. Are there college courses that your employees would benefit from? How can we incentivize their participation in those courses? Are there any seminars or conferences nearby? Speak to your leadership; perhaps they would be interested in hosting one as part of their community outreach program. Local, professional associations may be more than willing to host their next meeting at your facility.

As leaders, we must always look for ways to improve our team and give them the tools they need to succeed while enabling our health system to meet their objectives. We must always be looking at current trends and striving to identify opportunities to improve our teams. At the end of the day, our success equates to the success of the health system with which we are employed. 24×7

Martin Smith, MSETM, is manager, biomedical engineering, for the Saint Francis Health System in Tulsa, Okla. For more information, contact 24×7 editorial director John Bethune at [email protected]