Through years of experience with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) as well as biomedical departments in hospitals, Bill Bassuk, MBA, founder and CEO of CER-Technology, San Antonio, has seen the ins and outs of running a department from both sides of the spectrum. When he founded CER-Technology, a technology management company, his goal was to optimize clinical engineering departments for hospitals while simultaneously limiting costs. His innovative solution involves partnering with OEMs to assist his own technicians in an effort to afford hospitals optimal uptime at a cost-effective pricing point. The company’s recent partnership with the National Graduate School of Quality Management (NGS) will allow interested biomeds to earn their bachelor’s and master’s degrees quickly in an online and blended format. 24×7 recently spoke with Bassuk about CER-Technology’s goals and the industry as a whole.
24×7: What is your personal history in the medical device industry?
Bassuk: I started off as a medical technologist—that’s what I did in the military—and from there I went to medical electronics with Coulter. They work on the hematology analyzers in the lab. From there, I ended up working for a company called Core Master Plan. I was their hematology manager out in California. Then I started with GE. It was a hybrid position. I was more or less their lab manager. What I ended up doing was training biomedical technicians across the country in repairing Coulters and Beckmans. The Beckmans are chemistry analyzers. I had an office up in Waukesha, but I lived in California. From there, I went to Barnes-Jewish Hospital. I was their operations manager at the downtown hospital and oversaw the biomedical shops for two hospitals. I was only there for a couple of years before moving to San Antonio, where I worked for Patriot Medical as a regional director until I started my own business, CER-Technology. I’ve been doing this for 11 years.
24×7: Can you tell me about the history of CER-Technology?
Bassuk: I started my own business because I saw working in-house with Barnes-Jewish and working on the external side of things—outsourcing with GE and Patriot Medical—that I found a better way to manage the biomed departments. What we do now is incorporate partnerships with the OEMs and the technicians as well as the hospitals. We get the best pricing and have the best customer service because the OEMs send us to their schools, which allows us to do first call on the equipment. This reduces the downtime tremendously. Most of the time, the first call is something simple. If it’s something major and our staff is unable to repair the problem, then the OEM technician is called out to perform the repair. This works really well and helps us to keep the downtime to a minimum.
24×7: So rather than offer benefits that OEMs cannot, you partner with them to find the optimal solution for a facility?
Bassuk: Yes. We customize the partnership to meet the needs of the hospital. When it comes to biomedical costs, the difference between my company and other companies are the profit margins. The fact that I partner with the hospital and OEM means I can keep my EBITA [earnings before interest, taxes, and amortization] much lower then the larger companies.
24×7: Is there any reason you think it’s best for hospitals to partner with both an OEM and a company like yours?
Bassuk: Quality of service is quicker, and the budget is lower. If you have an ISO out there and a piece of radiology equipment breaks down, they might only have one engineer that covers a region. If the biomed at the hospital is not trained, they might use the regional person. It might take 3 or 4 hours for response time, whereas we already have our staff that is familiar with all of the basic stuff on that piece of equipment. Our staff can come in and respond to it, and if they can’t get it repaired then they talk to the OEMs, who work with us. Our OEMs that we have in our area usually respond within 2 hours. Most of them are local.
24×7: What services do you offer?
Bassuk: We offer the complete technology management package from consulting to performing all repairs, as well as maintaining and managing budgets.
We educate, evaluate, and perform comprehensive studies on asset management. From there we customize a strategic service delivery plan to the hospital for the biomedical department, ensuring the highest quality and at the same time making budget. And we work in all areas of the hospital, from radiology to labs and anesthesia.
24×7: What is the company’s geographic reach?
Bassuk: With our partnership with NGS, we’re going to have a national reach for education. As far as what we do on the technology management side, just Texas so far.
24×7: Does working in all of those departments present any issues?
Bassuk: No. The key thing to working in these departments is communication. We communicate with the directors and find out what their goals and needs are for maintaining the equipment. Most directors want the same thing, and that is to keep downtime to a minimum.
24×7: What are some of the steps you take to customize your offering to individual hospitals?
Bassuk: First of all, we listen very carefully to the needs of our customers. Then, we review the data given to us by the hospital. Once the data has been reviewed, we develop a comprehensive plan of action for the hospital, which includes service delivery, budget, training, if necessary, and anything else that the hospital requires from us. Each hospital is unique, and therefore no two service plans are the same.
24×7: Does CER-Technology do any of the high-end repair work, or is it mostly first call maintenance?
Bassuk: Yes, as long as we have someone trained, we try to work on all equipment for first call. That’s where we benefit with our partnerships with the OEMs. We work together as a team, and this helps keep the downtime to a minimum, which in turn keeps our customers happy.
24×7: And your technicians are constantly in training?
Bassuk: Training is very important, and we try to keep current in our training. We usually have up to six training schools on an annual basis. If needed, we will offer more schools as long as it make sense with the budget and with the agreement on the partnership program with the OEM.
24×7: Can you discuss why and how you guarantee to cap costs?
Bassuk: Again, each hospital is unique, and therefore once we compile data of the hospital we will give a very comprehensive report and let the hospital choose the service delivery plan that suits their needs the best.
24×7: Can you discuss your training offerings?
Bassuk: We offer training through a partnership with NGS. I had a school in the past, and it was an approved school for biomedical, which taught a person who was fresh out of school in 9 months—sort of like the military—to get their biomedical technology certificate. They were taught anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, electronics, pneumatics, hydraulics, customer service, database, The Joint Commission requirements, and the top 25 pieces of equipment in the current hospital, and then performed a 270-hour externship. What we wanted to do was to help our industry by providing a bachelor’s and master’s degree program to help the current technicians improve their careers through formal education.
What I decided to do was take a look at the biomedical technicians that we currently have in the industry now. I realized that most of them only have their associate’s degree. It takes 2 to 4 years to get your bachelor’s and master’s degree with a traditional school, and it costs quite a bit of money. With NGS, I realized it only takes the biomedical technician 1 year to get a bachelor’s degree in quality with an emphasis on biomedical management technology. When I met with Dr Robert Gee [NGS founder and president], and spoke with him about the biomedical program, he liked the idea and found the need to offer the biomedical program as an emphasis of the quality degree.
24×7: What is the quality degree?
Bassuk: What we’re going to do is a bachelor’s degree in quality specializing in biomedical technology management. The reason why I chose this school is because quality is a good background for any occupation and a great degree to have regardless of what industry you work for. Whether you’re in the food industry or the medical industry, it teaches you to take a look at your own department’s processes and procedures and find ways to better them.
The quality degree with an emphasis on biomedical technology management will teach the technician how to perform root cause analysis and understand what it takes to become a biomedical manager, as well as start their own company someday. This degree not only teaches the technician to become a manager in biomed, but will also aid them to manage different departments by understanding effective communication, process analysis, root cause analysis, and effective problem-solving.
24×7: Are those classes all offered on-site, or are they online as well?
Bassuk: Both. NGS has a blended program, and depending on where you are located, a technician can choose to do the entire program online or in the classroom. Our classroom studies are in San Diego; Falmouth, Mass; and San Antonio.
24×7: What do you think is the biggest challenge currently facing the biomed community?
Bassuk: I think for the biomed technicians themselves, it’s advancement. It seems like it is difficult to move into management because of the lack of formal education. Most of them have their associate’s degree, and they do advance through the technical experience, but if they want to advance and become a manager, director, VP, or even start their own company, they need to have higher formal education.
24×7: Do you hope that the training program you are working on with NGS will help solve that problem?
Bassuk: Anytime you have a technician that invests in his or her own career, whether by advanced technical training or formal training, they are bound to advance. Formal education along with technical expertise will no doubt improve his or her career paths.
24×7: Is there anything else you want to discuss?
Bassuk: I just wanted the biomedical technicians to know that in as little as 1 year’s time they can receive a bachelor’s degree that is accredited. If the technician has their bachelor’s degree they can receive a master’s degree in 1 year as well. NGS has very flexible schedules. Their prices are some of the best in the country because they are a not-for-profit organization. They do have financial aid available for those who qualify. The biomedical technicians who want to advance owe it to themselves to at least take a look into this program. They will be glad they did.
Chris Gaerig is the associate editor of 24×7. Contact him at .