L-R: At Huron Valley–Sinai Hospital, Steve Cope, Mike Burdinie, John Wheeler, Jason Wright, and Karen Fordham.

Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota
By Mary Wood, director of materials management

A pediatric hospital runs on life-saving technology—a ventilator helping an infant breathe, an imaging machine providing early childhood cancer detection. Behind the efficacy of this critical equipment is the biomedical engineering department, a team that serves as the technical liaison and hospital resource for all medical equipment and works to resolve technology issues, reduce risks, improve patient care, and lower hospital costs.

Lacking an internal biomedical engineering department of its own, in 2005, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota (Children’s) was faced with a decision: continue working with an outside vendor to help optimize its medical technology, or create an in-house biomedical engineering department to oversee hospital-wide operations. Upon evaluating the benefits of each, Children’s chose to develop an internal department, which officially opened April 1, 2006. Its goals were three-fold: to improve Children’s level of service, reduce hospital expenses, and introduce new technologies specifically conceived and designed for children.

“Children’s decision to create an in-house biomedical engineering department has allowed the organization to implement better methods and technologies, which truly make a difference in the lives of the more than 129,000 patients we serve every year,” says John Hendricks, biomed manager and Minneapolis logistics manager.

Improving Service for Patients and Providers: A Hands-On Approach

L-R: At Huron Valley–Sinai Hospital, Steve Cope, Mike Burdinie, John Wheeler, Jason Wright, and Karen Fordham.

Children’s biomedical engineering department has uniquely positioned itself to help transform the way health care for children is delivered by utilizing a proactive approach to provide clinical support. For example, each year, the department conducts an internal customer service survey to help fine-tune its processes and better serve the hospital. The team also meets regularly with department leaders of Children’s various specialty groups—such as neonatology, oncology, neuroscience, and pediatric intensive care—to learn firsthand from providers what challenges they face in operating their medical equipment and how to overcome these critical issues.

“Customer satisfaction is well above what it was when our team took over in 2006, and it continues to rise,” Hendricks says. “We had a 5% increase in customer satisfaction in 2011 alone.”

The department also plays a role in education. Proper equipment use is vitally important in maximizing patient safety and improving care and patient outcomes. Biomedical engineering negotiates both on-site and specialized off-site training with the purchase of new equipment. They also monitor end-user errors and line up or conduct retraining on proper equipment use as needed. The hospital equipment plays an important role in patient care and the team is extremely important in ensuring there is adequate and safe equipment to meet patient demands.

Growing the Hospital While Driving Down Costs

Biomedical engineering team member Robert Nystrom programs a patient monitor at Children’s Hospital.

When the 340-bed pediatric hospital broke ground in 2007 on a $150 million renovation and expansion project at its Minneapolis and St Paul campuses, Children’s nine-member biomedical engineering department quickly became the go-to group for equipment needs and questions. Working closely with Children’s staff, they participated in all aspects of new equipment acquisition. They helped provide information to purchasing to make sure new equipment standards were consistent with equipment currently in use. They also advised when equipment upgrades were appropriate, versus buying new. They assisted with vendor negotiations, delivery, installation, and user training of medical equipment for a new 19-bed cardiovascular intensive care unit, a 39,000-square-foot cardiovascular center, and a state-of-the-art cardiovascular operating room.

Throughout Children’s ongoing expansion, the biomedical engineering department team has continued to look for every opportunity to optimize hospital equipment and patient care. The department worked closely with hospital finance to establish a protocol to understand the repair history of the hospital equipment, allowing them to systematically plan for and update the equipment. The team is also credited with reducing outside training services by initiating a formal review process of service contracts; managing all logistics of equipment delivery; and ensuring staff training was initiated on time. By overseeing these training services internally, the team not only reduced costs, but the grand opening of the new hospital departments continued on schedule.

Undergoing an expansion of this caliber using an outside vendor could have been a hefty expense, but the initiatives implemented by the department have allowed Children’s to add equipment, improve patient care, and simultaneously cut costs. Over the past 6 years, while Children’s biomedical engineering staff size has remained the same, its hospital equipment count has almost tripled, and its overall medical equipment maintenance costs have increased by only 2.6%. Its maintenance cost/device has actually decreased by 60%. Children’s has moved from an outsourced biomedical engineering strategy and many manufacturer full service contracts to a highly trained employed department with few manufacturer service contracts and some self-insurance for major radiology component repairs.

A Singular Focus on Improving the Quality of Pediatric Care

In recent years, both the medical industry and the public have recognized inefficiencies and error rates in the health care system, resulting in an increasingly unified call to improve the quality and effectiveness of patient care.

“This is especially important for pediatric hospitals, as children are more susceptible to bad outcomes when medical errors occur,” Hendricks says. “As a result, pediatric health care providers are faced with the challenge of simultaneously reducing costs and improving care quality.”

To stay ahead of this issue and to help keep up with the fast pace at which medical technology is evolving, the biomedical engineering department at Children’s puts a heavy focus on continuing education and personal development. Members of the team are encouraged to pursue specialized training in areas of interest to them. For example, one team member has received additional training for radiology and now is able to handle a majority of the service requests in the radiology department.

The extra training the staff has received has also impacted the hospital’s bottom line. Team members have learned additional skills, such as welding, allowing the hospital to internally handle equipment maintenance that would have otherwise required the assistance of outside services.

On top of outside skills training, the team plays an active role in furthering Children’s reputation across the Minneapolis–St Paul community. The team is actively engaged in an internship program that provides area students in aviation mechanics the opportunity to train to become biomedical technicians, which is especially crucial now with the slow job growth in the field of aviation.

The team strongly supports Children’s various community and charity projects. Over the past 3 years, team members have participated in more than six mission trips, including donating time to Operation Smile, as well as supporting the creation of a new neonatal intensive care unit abroad.

“Keeping the morale high within the department is extremely important to the success of our team and the hospital as a whole,” Hendricks says. “Encouraging our team to challenge and progress themselves professionally and personally really reflects in the quality of work we do.”

Through dedicated customer service and a strategic approach to the maintenance and inventory of the hospital’s medical equipment, the biomedical engineering department at Children’s has proven to be—and continues to be—a valuable asset to improving the standard of care and patient safety.

Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota
Biomedical Engineering Department
Minneapolis, MN
(612) 813-6000