Chuck Alloway

Anyone who has been keeping up with recent coverage of the biomedical world has noticed that more and more of our departments are being “folded into” the IT departments with an IT director. I have to wonder: Why?

Biomedical engineers worked for many years to get out from under the plant operations mantle to become our own department with our own director/manager and to take our rightful place among those departments that actually deal with patient care. In some hospitals we still get calls to change light bulbs and unclog drains, but we have evolved beyond this to become an integral part of patient care. Now, many want us to accept another mantle—the IT department.

Biomedical engineering is about as close as you can get to patient care without interfacing directly with the patient on a day-to-day basis. All the equipment we service has a direct relationship with patient care. We strive to ensure that this equipment is working correctly and that the user can rest assured that the information coming from this unit is correct. We do our utmost to respond as quickly as humanly possible to every request for equipment service. All of us know that when a piece of equipment is not working correctly the quality of patient care diminishes. Not to take anything away from plant operations or IT, but they do not have the same responsibilities that we have. They do not have to respond the way we do because their response is not as critical to patient care.

The IT department has its own niche in the hospital environment, but it is not the same as ours. When the network goes down, yes, they do scramble, but the medical equipment still works. The nurses and doctors still provide care, and the patients get better. When a piece of clinical equipment goes down, especially with no available backup, we feel the wrath of the nurses, physicians, and even the hospital administration. Our equipment is an integral part of patient care.

Customer service is one of the many benchmarks that can make or break a clinical engineering department. Any biomedical department manager worth his or her salt lives and dies according to customer satisfaction. It is kind of like the old saying: “If mama isn’t happy, nobody is happy!” For us, if the customer isn’t happy, nobody is happy.

I know some may take exception with this, but of all the IT departments I have worked with it seems that they do not have the same requirement for excellent customer service. Customer service is one thing that needs to become an essential part of all service departments in the hospital setting. This is one reason why if and when IT and biomedical engineering do become one department, a biomedical manager needs to head it. A biomedical manager who has kept up with new technology is familiar with networking as well as clinical equipment and how the two should interface. This would lead to a much smoother-running department. With an IT director in charge, the biomedical engineers would be constantly explaining to the director why he or she has to spend large sums of money to repair clinical equipment and how this equipment works.

Also, as far as budgets, the biomedical director deals with much larger budgets than the IT director does. We have learned to second source parts and service in order to save our budgets. Some of us even get down to component level to make repairs, and this saves enormous amounts of the budget.

I would propose that if the two departments were to merge that they become a new and different department, such as clinical technology or biomedical technology. I would also propose that the engineers assigned to this new department be well versed in all aspects of clinical equipment repair and networking so that we could all work together to become an integral part of the health care team. We would be an invaluable team that helps select the proper equipment with connections to the hospital network that would enhance patient care. We would also work with the vendors together to ensure that any new hardware or software upgrades will not have an adverse impact on the network.

I would ask all of the biomedical engineers to stand up and make your voice heard when this issue comes up in your facility.

Chuck Alloway works in the clinical engineering department at Rockdale Medical Center, Conyers, Ga. For more information, contact .

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