A well-recognized name in HTM, Matt Baretich, PE, PhD, is a prolific writer, a business owner, and, for 24×7 Magazine, a valued member of the editorial board. Below, Baretich—the 2017 recipient of AAMI’s “HTM Leadership Award”—discusses how he got into the field and why he’s not done making his mark on the industry he loves.
24×7 Magazine: How did you get your start in the clinical engineering field?
Matt Baretich: When I was in the biomedical engineering graduate program at Iowa State University in the mid-1970s, I heard about the new field of clinical engineering. The idea of applying biomedical engineering knowledge to patient care was appealing to me. So I convinced my faculty advisors to let me do coursework and projects that seemed relevant to the emerging profession.
With my brand-new degree in hand, I found a job managing a small shared-service program in Virginia, providing medical equipment maintenance services to regional hospitals. That led me to the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, Va., where I started the clinical engineering department. At that time, I simply didn’t know how much I didn’t know, so I learned as I went. I was young and fearless.
24×7: You specialize in forensic engineering. Can you please explain what that exactly is and discuss the work you do?
Baretich: After about 20 years of clinical engineering practice—including some work in healthcare facility management, safety management, and health services research—I started Baretich Engineering, a consulting firm that still has only one employee. Usually I’m the “employee of the month,” although sometimes I don’t really deserve it.
With Baretich Engineering, I try to balance clinical engineering and forensic engineering consulting. By forensic engineering, I mean helping organizations manage adverse events involving medical devices. For example, I do independent testing of equipment that the organization thinks may have contributed to patient injury. I also provide litigation support and expert witness services if there is a resulting lawsuit.
24×7: As a business owner, what advice would you give other HTM professionals who aspire to start their own companies?
Baretich: Even after 20 years of consulting, I’m not sure I know enough to give advice. That’s actually a good thing, because I thrive on continually reinventing myself professionally. What I learned as a practicing clinical engineer was that my greatest value to my employer—and my greatest personal satisfaction—came from tackling projects that were new and challenging. So, consulting is a good fit for me.
I can give the standard advice—save up plenty of cash, write a business plan, consult an attorney and an accountant, and so on—but I didn’t do any of that. I came to a fork in the road and veered off the main highway. I don’t advise doing that, because success is far from certain, but I don’t advise against it either. Live your personal and professional life adventurously.
24×7: You’ve done a lot of writing and teaching for AAMI. What are you working on these days?
Baretich: Over the years, I’ve been told that I’m a pretty good writer—for an engineer. What a backhanded compliment! For AAMI, I wrote the Electrical Safety Manualin 2015, Computerized Maintenance Management Systems for Healthcare Technology Management, along with Ted Cohen, in 2017, and the AEM Program Guidein 2018. Now I’m working on an HTM Service Guide, although I’m a bit behind schedule.
All these publications are “how-to” documents. I like pulling together all the facts about a topic of interest into one resource and describing what I see as best practices. For example, the AEM Program Guidetries to summarize and clarify what’s required for an alternative equipment maintenance program. Then, I describe what the best thinkers have said about how to meet the requirements.
24×7: In your expert opinion, what are the top issues currently affecting the clinical engineering field?
Baretich: I think the biggest challenge is for the HTM community to move from being reactive to proactive about how we do our work. Too many times, the regulatory and accrediting organizations issue requirements without consulting expert practitioners in the field. That leaves us struggling to comply with unrealistic expectations, expending resources on dubiously effective responses to arguably insignificant risks.
24×7: So far, what do you consider your greatest career achievement and why?
Baretich: As I look back at over 40 years in clinical engineering, the one consistent theme I see is an effort to sort through something—AEM program requirements, for example, or the messy details of a medical equipment-related patient incident—and make sense of it. It’s tempting to glorify that as a search for truth but, as an engineer, I think it’s just trying to figure out what works.
In my mind, my greatest career achievement is that I’m still here, with plenty of interesting work to do, many more years to do it, and good people to do it with.