Where’s the value in a strong medical physicist / biomedical engineer relationship?

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Where’s the value in a strong medical physicist / biomedical engineer relationship?

August 21, 2019
From the August 2019 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

By Thomas J. Petrone

The goal of both medical physicists and biomedical engineers is to keep radiation equipment operating safely and effectively while minimizing risk to patients and workers.
Yet the two professionals come at this task from different angles. Medical physicists are oriented toward image quality, dose, and compliance, while biomedical engineers take a primarily operational approach, ensuring machines meet the manufacturer’s specifications. Physicists and engineers have also taken quite different educational paths to get where they are. These differences might naturally result in differing professional perspectives.

Could these distinctions in training and orientation be impeding clinical or operational value at the facilities they serve? Would a focused effort to align the work of these professionals result in a beneficial synergy for the facility?

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The short answers are no and yes, respectively. The differences between medical physicists and biomedical engineers rarely cause conflict on the ground, and almost never threaten operational or clinical value. That said, a strong and direct working relationship between these professionals stands to preserve value by limiting equipment down time, especially for high use applications that are also highly regulated—mammography is a good example. When biomedical engineers and medical physicists can communicate with one another directly, for instance, they can fix, evaluate, and certify a mammography unit more efficiently than if there’s a third party “managing” the multi-step interaction.

Buffalo, NY-based Kaleida Health’s director of Clinical Engineering, Edward Bauerlein, has collaborated with many medical physicists over the years. He asserts that “more than just committee-level interaction is needed to cement a truly productive working relationship — but in today’s digital age we can use information exchange to power and accelerate that engagement.” Just as clinical staff work closely together virtually, using the EMR, he observes, so too can medical physicists and biomedical engineers use technologies for collecting, sharing, and analyzing their data. “We’re already leveraging data to improve, predict, and manage patient outcomes and patient populations,” says Bauerlein, “so it’s a fair expectation that we would also use data to manage equipment critical to care.”

Problems versus opportunities
Minimizing equipment down time (i.e., the problem side of things) has obvious and potentially sizable impacts for an organization’s workflow, clinical operations, and revenue. But the real value in the medical physicist/biomedical engineer relationship — a value that’s still broadly unrealized — is in the opportunities it presents.

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