‘In-house’ means that personal touch

After reading an article on operating room etiquette by Dave Harrington (“Behind the Swinging Doors,” April 2000) I thought, what happened to the personal touch? While you must present yourself with professionalism in the O.R., you must also consider your customers, and while most “in-house” clinical engineering departments do not refer to the hospital staff as “customers”, they are. You may not be actively competing with third-party service, but how quickly you respond to a call, how you treat the clinical staff, and how you follow it all up later is just as important as getting it fixed.

A couple of points Harrington presented deviate from these basics (although, please keep in mind that I have the utmost respect for Dave and his opinions!) Walk in, do what is needed, and get out? This is a big mistake. I’ll get on the good side of many surgeons by walking in, fixing or identifying the problem, and staying a while, just to reassure the surgeon that someone is available to help. Not all the time, but every once and a while. It’s not “cost effective” but it does have benefits. You may learn something about a surgical procedure that will help you chat about equipment with the OR staff on their playing field. Staying and learning helps you to better serve the surgeon, and makes you the surgeon’s ally. Remember, if the surgeon sends just one compliment about your work to administration, your time is more than paid for.

Harrington said do not speak until you are spoken to, and don’t discuss stock tips, but there is an old saying, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Remember customer service. Imagine how you feel when a manufacturer’s representative comes in to service equipment, keeps conversation to a minimum, silently drops off a service report and leaves. Was the equipment fixed? Yes. Do you want to deal this rep on a regular basis? Maybe not.

A good field service representative knows there is a time and place for sociable conversation, and adjusts his or her banter accordingly. The O.R. is no different than any other service site. I have worked with friendly surgeons, and not-so-friendly surgeons, and I have discovered that if you do not talk to the not-so-friendly surgeons, they will let you stand there for an eternity, then yell because you’re not doing anything.

You probably won’t chat about baseball with the not-so-friendly surgeons, but sometimes you must initiate a conversation to do your job, such as when you need to make changes to equipment during a case. These changes should not be made before discussing them with the surgeon. The friendlier you are from the time you enter the O.R., the more leeway you will get. And you might get a good stock tip.

One final point that I found confusing: never approach the sterile field. I think this leaves you useless. The sterile field should be at the top of your list of things to pay attention to, but sometimes you are forced to get right up next to it. Video systems are a good example. I wish I had a dime for every malfunction caused by a loose connection, wrong input selection or improperly switched option, and it would have been very difficult to troubleshoot them from across the room.

Dave’s points are good starting guidelines to follow when you are entering a new, unfamiliar environment, but your goal should be to win the surgeon and staff over, and being personable is an important part of customer satisfaction. It may take a few years to develop a strong rapport with the surgical staff, but the benefits are worth it.

And the same goes for the rest of your facility!

One final tip for new techs trying to develop operating room rapport: go with the friendliest biomed you have. That’s how I got my start, and I owe my good reputation to an experienced biomed who took me under his wing, Bob James.

Ron Hulin is a biomed tech at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, N.Y.