HTMA-SC and HTMA-GA link up for joint conference

By Phyllis Hanlon

The biomedical engineering profession is undergoing change these days. And part of that change involves collaboration to strengthen each organization, enhance professional development, and provide more opportunities for career advancement. South Carolina and Georgia house two professional associations that are taking the message of collaboration to heart.

The South Carolina Biomedical Association (SCBA) was founded in 2009. In 2012, the organization voted to change its name to Healthcare Technology Management Association of South Carolina (HTMA-SC), the first association to take this step, in recognition of the new professional name developed at the AAMI Future Forum held that year.

HTMA-SC believes the new name more accurately reflects the future of the profession, which encompasses not only biomedical technicians, but also imaging engineers and information technology professionals.

Patrick Lynch, CHTM, CCE, CBET, MBA, CPHIMS, fACCE, and president of HTMA-SC, says, “We currently have over 800 members, with 168 from the state of South Carolina and the rest from around the US and the world. Many of our members are also members of the HTMA-GA, but we have never cross-referenced our membership lists.” Lynch also serves as treasurer for HTMA-GA.

HTMA-SC has been holding an annual conference for the last seven or eight years in early May in Columbia, S.C. This year the conference will include its colleagues from Georgia in the planning and execution of the event.

Fledgling Association

In 2015, health technology management professionals in the Peach State organized the Healthcare Technology Management Association of Georgia (HTMA-GA) “…to meet a need for communication, interaction and education by and among the professionals who maintain and manage the medical equipment in Georgia.” The Association aims to remain flexible so it “…can become whatever the BMETs, Clinical Engineers and Imaging Engineers of the State wish it to become.”

A map of Georgia

A map of Georgia

With approximately 160 members, some of whom also belong to HTMA-SC, HTMA-GA has held several events since its inception that are designed to educate members and provide networking opportunities. A conference call in July 2015 gave members a chance to weigh in on their needs for second source vendors. In October 2015, the association held the first annual management conference in which HTM managers shared ideas and discussed hot topics and trends in the profession.

HTMA-GA also held several educational drives throughout its inaugural year. In March 2016, a meet-up featured a class on the AMX-4 in which attendees learned about calibration, preventative maintenance, and common failures. Later that year in October, HTMA-GA sponsored another meet-up as well as networking sessions. But the organization has not held a statewide conference—until now.

Collaborative Conference

The flag of South Carolina

The flag of South Carolina

This year, for the first time in its history, the South Carolina association decided to invite the Georgia group to join them in sponsoring the annual conference. Lynch explains that this collaboration will benefit both organizations and will give the Georgia HTM professionals some experience in planning a large-scale event.

“Also, this gives their members an opportunity to attend an educational conference,” he says. “We will share revenue with them from our conference.”

Lynch reports that the theme will be “whatever is important for working biomedical technicians, managers, and imaging engineers in hospitals today.” To accomplish that goal, the conference will feature a variety of sessions. One will address education of biomedical technicians; another will offer management courses that look at issues such as FDA regulation of servicers.

Lynch reported that other sessions will examine Joint Commission compliance issues, which changed at the beginning of 2017; preventative maintenance and repair classes for x-ray equipment; information technology; and cyber security related to medical devices. “We selected those topics because those seem to be on everyone’s lips right now as issues that most biomedical techs or HTM professionals are having difficulties addressing,” he says.

During the planning stages, the boards from HTMA-GA and HTMA-SC held joint conference calls to discuss the details, including educational sessions, vendors, food, and door prizes, and advertising to their respective geographic areas. The planning committee has not yet identified a keynote speaker, but hopes to find an individual with some star power. “It will be someone with mass appeal to everyone who attends, including the exhibitors and vendors who are there,” Lynch says.

The event will take place in the South Carolina Hospital Association (SCHA) conference room. Space constraints allow for a maximum of 22 exhibitors and vendors, which have already been lined up. Exhibitors will offer books, magazines, software, medical equipment, supplies, and services to attendees.

“Our cost to be an exhibitor is very low compared to many other shows,” Lynch points out, citing an expected turnout of 80 or more technical professionals. Notably no students will be in attendance. “Most societies have as much as 20% of attendees are college students, which is a negative for the exhibitors. They want customers, and students are not customers,” he says.

“Furthermore, South Carolina has no colleges that teach biomedical engineering. Everyone who attends is a working biomedical technician or imaging engineer.”

One-day/No-Cost Event

One of the best features of the event is its time frame, according to Lynch. “As a one-day conference on the first Friday in May, attendees can drive in to Columbia in the morning and not have to stay overnight. Columbia is situated roughly two hours from everywhere in the state of South Carolina,” he says.

“We’ll finish up about 4:30 or 5 p.m. on Friday, and attendees can drive back home without having to stay the night. If we went to a multiday conference, there would be a lot of people who would not be able to attend,” Lynch says. “Hospitals are not allowing technicians to be out of work or pay expenses to stay overnight for trainings.”

Although the time factor is an advantage in one sense, it also poses a challenge. “Our classes tend to be an hour or an hour-and-a-half in length. It’s difficult to give really in-depth training in that short period of time, so we have to work really hard to try to find meaningful classes that individuals can actually take back to their respective hospitals and do something that impacts the hospital in a positive way,” Lynch says. Even so, he says presenters are expected to make their slides available to conference organizers, who will then post them to the web.

Another positive aspect of the conference is its fee; there is absolutely no charge for any individual to attend. “All expenses are covered by exhibitors who attend. Even though we have a relatively low number of exhibitors and cost to exhibitors is low, we’re using the South Carolina Hospital Association site and they have connections for food and everything else. Even not charging individual attendees, we still make a modest profit off the conference,” says Lynch.

Sharing Ideas and Experiences

Although actively involved in the past, Lynch has relinquished some of his leadership roles for this conference. “I’m taking less and less of a role every year as we have other people who are filling a better role and doing more of the coordination,” he says. “Our vice president Andrew Stiles has been working with the president of the Georgia association, Benjamin Lewis, to line up the educational tracks.”

Lewis, MBA, CHTM, director of clinical engineering for the Georgia and Florida regions at Novant Health Inc., indicates that HTMA-GA is honored to join forces with its colleagues to the East. “I was pleased to see that we were invited to join in the efforts,” he says. “Our boards work fairly close together. We have some cross membership, so it was a natural thing to do.”

Lewis anticipates the conference will provide a “solid education event,” but he also envisions time for attendees to collaborate with one another. “Often, free collaboration time is where I personally get the most out of my time at these events,” says Lewis. “My expectations are pretty simple. I hope that the engineers and technicians feel that their time was used wisely to attend the event and the vendors feel that their money was used wisely to support the event.”

Lewis sees significant value in professional conferences like the joint one planned for May. “HTM is a fluid field. The field changes so fast and so often, whether it is the equipment and applications used or the regulations governing us,” he says. “It is important to stay up-to-date on the latest trends, and conferences are a great way to share ideas and experiences.”

“HTMA-GA will benefit from the collaboration through increased exposure and being part of a successful full-day conference. I have been to the HTMA-SC conference twice and both events were successful, so the GA board will get a chance to meet vendors, educators, and biomeds that are interested in being part of the greater HTM community,” says Lewis.

“To date, HTMA-GA has focused on education events. Collaborating with HTMA-SC is part of growing our base and contacts to a point that a reasonable sized daylong conference would be possible and successful,” Lewis adds.

Having a successful annual conference is very much about supply and demand, according to Lewis. “We will do an After Action Review and judge the success of HTMA-GA’s contribution and also look at the demand for a conference of our own,” he says. “So far, we feel like we have been effective with our focused education events, but we are open to having our own if we feel that we can get the attendance and vendors to make it a success.”   

Phyllis Hanlon is a contributing writer for 24×7. For more information, contact chief editor Keri Forsythe-Stephens at [email protected].