By Patrick Lynch, CBET, CCE, CHTM, CPHIMS, FACCE
I’ve been in the biomedical—now “HTM”—field for 42 years. And, for the most part, I’ve lead one organization or another since 1980. Given that, I have a few observations about the current state of organization of our profession.
We have a lot of very good state biomedical associations. Although they all operate a little bit differently they all offer some sort of networking, education, and newsletter and/or website. One thing they are all lacking, however, is a national presence to make major changes that affect our entire industry.
I have compiled 10 reasons why I believe that we need a national HTM organization— one that is chapter-based, so that the local and state associations can merge under a national umbrella. That way, we can flex our collective muscle to really get something done, instead of just meeting locally to complain about it. Here is my list:
1. We have no representation. The current associations represent only a fraction of the people performing HTM functions in the U.S. If you add up the memberships of all associations, the total number of members (both active and inactive) may reach 13,000. The number of unique members is surely less than that.
At a recent FDA workshop on servicers in Silver Spring, Md., there was exactly one working BMET on the official agenda to speak. The rest were manufacturers, independent service organizations (ISOs), trade associations, government officials, health systems, and the Veteran’s Administration. Not a single association representing the working BMET (unless you count the American College of Clinical Engineering) was on the agenda.
2. No current association is even attempting to represent us at a national level. There is no membership that has a significant numbers of working BMETs.
3. A new association would be much more inclusive. The national association could be designed from the start to have sections for imaging engineers, as well as healthcare IT support technicians. It should also have a manager’s section. It may even have groups for non-technical support people, like administrative support staff or computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) data managers.
4. Many local associations would gladly become a chapter of a national association. Doing this would greatly relieve them of administrative burdens, as well as provide a framework for their operations. A national parent would also bring resources for education, lobbying, legislative monitoring, among other benefits.
5. The industry would gain a national lobbying presence. Right now, none of the local associations performs activities that change the course of the profession. By and large, all the monies spent by local associations are for local networking, local education, vendor education, product presentations, and educational scholarships.
While these are all noble endeavors, they do little to change the political climate of the profession. They do not change laws. They do not change manufacturer practices regarding service materials. A national group that could speak for all of us—instead of only local members—would have much more clout.
6. Regulatory agencies need education to see the world from our perspective. The manufacturers speak to the FDA daily. Large ISOs have the resources to send people to speak to the Joint Commission and DNV GL.
Who from a hospital has the time or funding to travel to these agencies and educate them about the needs of hospital-based HTMs? A national organization would have the centrally collected dollars to prepare a professional, to-the-point, persuasive, educational presentation and fund someone who is polished, professional, and convincing to present it.
7. Volunteers run 100% of the associations today—and that’s a fundamental problem.Continuity of purpose is never guaranteed with volunteers. It seems that life, work, and many other things occur periodically to take priority over volunteer activities. That’s why so many associations seem to rise and fall like a roller coaster; home life and work life often push volunteerism to the side for a while. And backup is usually not available. The solution? A core of paid staff whose paycheck depends upon maintaining the functions of the organization.
8. We are aging. As many of us retire in the next few years, there needs to be a repository of information to keep the profession alive. This information is not just technical—it is also cultural.
HTMs and biomeds have a unique culture; biomeds are different than many others. I think we work harder. We play harder. We care more. About our hospitals. About our customers. About our patients. About our equipment. This attitude of caring is rare today. It is important that we find a way to transmit the culture of caring to the newcomers in the profession.
9. HTM needs to become more data-driven. As the entire world moves toward making decisions by data, trends, and numbers, the HTM field must do the same. The lack of a national standard for the comparison of HTM operations leaves us at the risk of others, who can impose whatever metrics they wish upon us since we have none of our own. A national organization could be more decisive and prescriptive about forcing standards.
10. To evolve, we need to groom future leaders. We have many, many very intelligent people in this profession. But, unfortunately, many of them do not have a forum for sharing their ideas. Many times, local leaders have stars who are deserving of a larger stage for their ideas and leadership. A national association would give them such a place to go—and our profession will be better for it. After all, every new idea moves us further toward a future that we control.
Now that I have laid out my reasons for a new national organization, I would like to hear from all of you—especially the leadership and past leadership of the associations throughout the U.S. Email me at email@example.com with your thoughts, critiques, problems, suggestions, and ideas about how this may or may not work.
I am committed to seeing this idea through to completion. I’m going to find an organization to start a national HTM association, complete with paid staff, chapters, affiliates, lobbying activities, national recognition, and an unwavering support for the values and need of the working biomed. So, are you with me?