Ever since President Obama signed the American Re- covery and Reinvestment Act into law on February 17, news coverage has been nonstop dissecting the bill. We all have a personal stake in it, but exactly how will this stimulus plan benefit clinical/biomedical engineering departments?

Apart from reading about the $19 billion earmarked for health care IT, I wasn’t sure. I naturally turned to my board members, many of whom are closely associated with connectivity programs and initiatives. The general consensus? Small impact, if any.

Board member Ken Olbrish, MSBE, who works in information services at Main Line Health System, echoed other responses I received and summed it up saying, “I would suspect that the majority of 24×7’s readers would only be impacted peripherally. The stimulus package really deals with health care IT and insurance more than anything else.”

Ken went on to say that biomeds may be involved if they assist in the integration of medical devices and systems if their institutions implement EMRs. Other than that, he—and the other board members—did not see the bill as having a large impact on biomeds.

I received similar responses agreeing that the EMR is on its way, and the stimulus package focus on it may reveal how behind some facilities are in adopting it. They warn that clinical/biomedical engineering departments need to keep their eyes on this and be proactive so as not to fall behind or be pushed into making quick decisions when it comes to integrating clinical data into the EMR. Even so, this still may be years down the road.

What did become apparent in the responses was that other, more pressing issues exist. One person said that the real problem is that there is no money to fund new equipment or even renovation/building projects already in play. “Hospitals have been building up cash reserves in their foundations, or even worse, have gotten bond money in the last 2 years for big projects and invested the money through their foundations until needed in construction.” He went on to say that in the last 12 months, one hospital’s foundation investments lost all of the interest and some of the principal, so it no longer has the money to fund anything.

Another board member stated that equipment vendors have received cancellations on sales, which means biomeds will have the task of maintaining older equipment for longer periods of time.

Other issues at stake include pressing for training and technical support from the manufacturer to support new technology. Also, the industry needs to “push the FDA to become more proactive toward the support of technology after development.” He added that communication among biomeds and with others in hospitals and the industry is key.

Where do you stand? Will the stimulus bill benefit your department, or do the other points raised by board members affect you more? With less money available, will you have to maintain older equipment longer? Does adoption of the EMR go hand-in-hand with replacing older equipment so data can integrate with the EMR? Do you have patient safety concerns regarding older equipment you need to continue to use? I hope you will meet me on our blog and share your ideas and thoughts on how you will cope with these many challenges.

Julie Kirst