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Healthcare Chronicles: The Big Picture

by Robert Hughes, TriMedx | May 17, 2010
This report originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of DOTmed Business News

I've been a part of the health care community for about 30 years giving me the opportunity to view developments over time from two perspectives. Working on the user side as an imaging director and as a director of clinical engineering for a large health system has provided two distinct perspectives about where the clinical engineering segment of our industry is going. Surprisingly, it is somewhat uncharted territory.

Historically, clinical engineering has been perceived as the group responsible for supply and maintenance of medical equipment. These professionals were only in the spotlight when something went wrong with a machine. Even when it came to budgeting and how they would justify the expenses related to their services, the response might be something like, "We've done well maintaining and keeping things running."

But that answer isn't enough when every budget line item is being scrutinized by hospital executives trying to rein in spending. Today, they're being asked, "What value are you bringing me?" Clinical engineers have to make a paradigm shift that they're no longer expected to be just a fixed-cost center. Now, they need to prove additional value to facilities. They need to not only keep machines running, but they need to help keep costs down and help drive income up. Successful clinical engineers do both and have always done both, but they haven't always been of the mindset to express that fact.

The current economy and sophisticated health care environment requires clinical engineers to take in the whole picture and make their contributions clear. Yes, we are tasked with maintaining a system. If we don't react correctly, there could be negative impact. If there's a patient in the ER, the patient is sent to the CT and the results go to the doctor to determine further course of action. If the system isn't maintained, that interrupts patient flow and if a CT is needed, the patient will need to be sent elsewhere or rescheduled, which is devastating to the health care provider.

Consequently, it's obvious that uptime is of utmost value to the hospital and we need to emphasize the value of uptime. In addition, we need to be proactive. Being proactive can mean how we interact. How the clinical engineering department works with the imaging department depends on whether the equipment will be serviced by in-house staff or an outside service. It also depends on the level of trust that the imaging director has with the clinical engineer to keep the device up and running. The ideal scenario is a partnership between the two, a relationship where the clinical engineer is a trusted service partner who consults with the customer to ensure the right equipment service mix for that particular device.