Is your department barely holding on, or is it pushing aggressively forward? Clinical/biomedical engineering departments face tough challenges these days. Budget freezes and cuts have put new equipment purchases on hold, translating to more pressure on technicians to keep older equipment up and running and clinicians happy. Training—already an unfulfilled need, according to our December 2008 compensation survey (check our archives)—has also taken a hit.

A changed economy calls for new tactics, but as with any change, it is better to not just survive, but to also grow. That statement may make you shake your head and say, “Right now, I can’t think about thriving. I just want to survive!” and I can certainly understand—I’m there too. However, the steps taken now toward better business and personal practices that will help us survive can also help us come out a notch higher when this economic crisis calms down.

One step toward thriving is to form alliances that can expand opportunities and help you cut costs. For instance, a recent press release I received touted the power of group purchasing organizations (GPOs—large national organizations and smaller regional entities). According to the release, when President Barack Obama and Congress weigh health care reform options to curb medical costs, they should take a close look at GPOs. In a study of 429 hospitals and more than 3 million hospital admissions by Eugene S. Schneller, PhD, principal, Health Care Sector Advances Inc, and professor at the Arizona State University School of Health Management and Policy, it found that GPOs are currently “achieving over $36 billion in annual health care and related costs savings in the United States.”

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GPOs achieve cost savings through volume purchases, which enable them to negotiate discounts with manufacturers and other vendors. By negotiating on behalf of hospitals, GPOs can contract for the best value in their purchase of supplies and services.

In the same vein, right in your own clinical/biomedical association backyard lie collaborative opportunities that can fill voids left by hospitals struggling financially. Need some budget advice? The Ohio Clinical Engineering Association recently held free budget seminars for its members. Looking for some training? The Alabama Biomedical Society—whose goal is to offer meaningful education and forums—will present Hospira Smart Pump Technology and Updates from The Joint Commission at its quarterly meeting. Recognizing the value of local associations to fill these needs, the Northwest Medical Instrumentation Association has put out a call to form local chapters in the Pacific Northwest. It believes that by building chapters in outlying areas, much like the California Medical Instrumentation Association has done, then everyone can take advantage of educational and networking opportunities.

As I prepare for the AAMI show in Baltimore this June, many of you who normally attend have told me that due to budget cuts you won’t be there. In the midst of economic concerns that include diminished travel and training budgets, I hope you will keep in mind that your local associations offer immense opportunities for individuals, managers, and departments to expand their skills, learn new strategies, and build their network of contacts. When all is said and done, this can only help you thrive.

Julie Kirst