How many times have you heard somebody lament; “I wish I knew then what I know now”? Benjamin Franklin may have said it best when he said; “Life’s tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late.”
What if you could have the benefit of that wisdom earlier in your career? What if some sage advice just happened to fall out of the sky? Well, your day has come. We sought out the wisdom of many veteran and mid-career HTM professionals to glean a little wisdom for the benefit of the rookies out there and anyone who just wants to learn, or be reminded, of a few truths.
Some of the best advice helps to establish an HTM professional’s role in the health care schematic. Not just as the person who performs repairs and maintenance; but as a customer service professional, number cruncher, communicator and problem solver.
What are five things that every HTM professional should know? Keep reading for some collective wisdom. You may find that five is just the starting point.
Dealing with People
Those who have been in the field for any length of time can tell you that the most important things to know may not have anything to do with a particular piece of equipment. It may have nothing to do with knowing anatomy and electronics; although those things are certainly prerequisites for the profession.
The important things are often intangibles; knowing about managing priorities and people skills. As a practical matter, what you may find in a psychology book or in an article about human interactions may outweigh what you find in an electronics textbook. Among the many pearls of wisdom are suggestions to improve listening skills, nurturing an image as the person who is always up for a challenge and knowing when to say, “I don’t know.”
“You have to have lots of patience, excellent customer service skills, the drive to want to learn, acceptance that you are not always going to be right and be able to work under pressure,” says Jesse Rodriguez, AAS, biomedical equipment technician with Baylor Medical Center in Carrollton, Texas.
“Try to occasionally leave your technical ‘comfort zone’ and explore and seek to understand some of the basic concepts surrounding organizational psychology, culture, politics, and the often seemingly bizarre nuances of human behavior in general and within your own organization in particular,” suggests Larry Fennigkoh, Ph.D., P.E., professor of Biomedical Engineering at the Milwaukee School of Engineering.
With a dose of humor, Fennigkoh lays out one of those intangible qualities that the HTM professional needs to figure out.
“The goal here is to not try and change your basic personality, but rather recognize and simply be sensitive to differences in individual values and what motivates some and not others,” he explains. “Such an awareness not only helps you get along with others of differing backgrounds, but also can help keep your sanity when confronted by a seemingly insane customer.”
This idea of leaving your comfort zone and thinking outside the box finds its way into another suggestion for modifying your behavior to become an exceptional HTM pro.
The people skill angle is echoed by Glenn Scales, CBET-E, past-president of the North Carolina Biomedical Association and the 2013 Medical Dealer Lifetime Achievement award winner.
“The single most important resource you have as a technician, is not technology, but your ‘people skills,’ ” Scales says. “We spend our whole careers working for and with others, plus hiring and managing people. Your staff are critical for your success and the advancement of your goals.”
“Learn how to be an effective communicator,” he adds. “Every human interaction involves communication and most people need as much help as they can get. Also, remember that communication involves listening, not just speaking.”
“Seek out the ‘go-to’ person you can learn from,” suggests Lawrence Countee, CBET, Healthcare Technology Management Biomed at Olathe Medical Center. Countee adds that it is helpful to learn “nurse speak.”
Lifelong learning is an area that can put a rookie biomed on the right course.
“My advice to new HTM professionals is to constantly pursue educational opportunities,” says Gus Sakis, vice president of sales for MediMizer Inc. “Seek out all sources of knowledge to increase your understanding of the industry with an emphasis on IT.”
“Devot time and effort to promote yourself and your department through excellent customer service. Follow closely the news from regulatory agencies such as The Joint Commission and others,” Sakis adds.
“Never say ‘no,’ ” says Pat Lynch, CCE, CBET, fACCE, CHTS-PW, CPHIMS, Chief Do-Gooder for Global Medical Imaging (GMI). Lynch says that there are several benefits from taking this approach.
“First, you will become known as the person who can and will do anything for anybody,” Lynch says. “Whenever anybody doesn’t know who to call, it will be you! Second, by opening yourself up to all sorts of weird and unusual challenges, you will become the most diverse person, capable of approaching and solving the most bizarre problems with ease.”
Lynch borrows from the old motto of the Army Corps of Engineers from World War II.
“ ‘The difficult, we do immediately, the impossible takes a little longer.’ Prepare yourself to do the impossible by accepting every challenge thrown at you,” he says.
He also stresses people skills, taking for granted that a technical mastery of all things electronic is a given in the field.
“Mechanical and medical is a job requirement, but it is not as important as your ability to talk to people, explain things on their level, and understand their world,” Lynch says. “Our customers have problems and stresses. Our presence should always make their life better and their stresses less. If you can do this, they will love to have you around.”
Another important intangible is keeping the lines of communications open with customers and providing a clear explanation of the service provided.
“The most often complaint of a client is that they don’t know when the repair was completed or what was even done,” says Brian Whelan, inside technical specialist with Remi Inc. His advice is directed at HTM professionals who work for ISO providers, but finds application with in-house biomeds as well.
“The client should always know what is going on with their equipment. A simple daily email update or even a phone call to let the client know what is going on. Often I have seen FSEs complete repairs and install parts without consent to install or complete the repairs,” he says.
Whelan says that the client will not pay the FSE for their services because they did not authorize the repair and the FSE is left with a large bill. He reasons that if the FSE simply communicated and gave updates to the client, many issues can be avoided.
“When the repair is completed, the client should be directly notified and given a completed work order in detail of the services performed. I always find it best to ‘bullet out’ the services performed so that it can be easily read,” Whelan says. “Also if you are unsure of how to go about a repair, or what to do, simply just ask someone. There are many resources on the web and other FSE that are glad to help. There’s no harm in asking and often a lot of people will not ask anyone out of fear of looking bad. Asking questions will save you time.”
This concept is repeated by Joe Howe, biomedical services manager for Lexington County Health Services District.
“Never be afraid or ashamed of asking for help. It is not a sign of weakness; on the contrary, it often takes more courage to ask for help than to stumble through a dilemma on your own,” he says.
“Don’t hesitate to say you do not know the answer to a question; you can always find the answer and usually will come out looking more foolish if you guess your way through an answer,” Howe says.
Lynch reminds HTM professionals that what goes around comes around. He illustrates this reality with the concept of “gray stamps.”
“Whenever you win by power or brute force, the losing party remembers. They ‘collect gray stamps,’ ” Lynch explains.
“They hold onto these gray stamps — which are similar to the old Green Stamps that you could redeem for gifts. When they have the opportunity to spend their accumulated gray stamps, to make your life difficult, they ‘redeem’ the gray stamps and cause you problems,” Lynch adds.
“You will long since (have) forgotten that they were left with a minor little revenge motive, but they will never forget the past,” he adds. “The moral: do not ever make enemies – payback is often served very cold.”
“Make rounds. Don’t let the only time nurses, techs and doctors see you is when something is broken,” recommends Jason Misner, CBET, biomedical supervisor for ARAMARK Healthcare Technologies in Albany, Georgia. “Maintain great work ethics. Don’t become complacent. Always strive to know more and be better.”
Thinking about Numbers
In an area unrelated directly to repair and maintenance or to people skills, Fennigkoh points out that there is a degree of accounting knowledge that should be a fundamental part of your thinking. Don’t just leave this to the C-suite and business managers. In a cost-conscious environment, the HTM professional who thinks about cost containment offers some additional valued insights.
“Learn some fundamental concepts associated with cost accounting and the principles that define and determine what the real, complete costs of your operation is to your employer,” he says. “For example, if you were suddenly given the charge of converting your existing cost-centered HTM operation to a for-profit business, how would you go about determining fixed and variable costs, hourly labor costs, etcetera? Essentially, how would you financially survive if you had to now function as a for-profit business?”
“Regardless of where or for whom we work, it’s all business of one kind or another,” Scales says.
He says that technicians need to understand how a business operates, how finances are managed and how to establish a budget. He points out a truth that has application in many different fields, but which all HTM professionals could benefit from.
“Almost anything you want to accomplish will require you to develop a plan and sell it to someone else,” he says.
Take that business knowledge and number-crunching expertise and let management know you are in tune with what’s important to them.
“Learn how to search, gather and analyze ‘big data.’ Become expert in reporting and presenting your findings to C-level management,” Sakis says.
A Few Technical Thoughts
On the technical side, there are tidbits of wisdom that can solve a perplexing problem, illustrate repairs and focus knowledge.
“Never trust the labels on lead wires at the distal end — always follow the lead wire back to its origin,” says Bob Siefers, CBET, who works in the clinical engineering department at Promedica Flower Hospital. “Many lead wires can be removed, and all it takes is two leads to be transposed and the techs or nurses will call with complaints. This holds true for monitoring as well as EKG, etcetera. Rule of thumb — never trust a label. Check it out yourself.”
“In addition to the technical, IT, financial, management — human and technical — and soft skills,” says Bassam Tabshouri, MSEE, director of Medical Engineering for American University of Beirut Medical Center in Beirut, Lebanon,. “I believe that knowledge in the (following) is needed; systems engineering, technology assessment, technology and society and technology transfer.”
Troubleshooting skills is an important skill for HTM professionals, in order to diagnose equipment effectively. This applies to in-house technicians and field service engineers equally.
Whelan says that HTM professionals “should review the service manuals of various equipment. Often FSEs will overlook the simple causes like a bad power cord, battery, power supply (or) faulty outlet and think that they need to replace an expensive PCB just because the error code suggested that is the best course of action,” he says. “Good troubleshooting skills will save you time and money.”
He also points out that not everyone has a photographic memory and that a basic piece of technology, that most people have, can come in real handy.
“Take pictures – almost everyone has a smartphone,” Whelan says. “Take a lot of pictures of how you are taking apart the piece of equipment you are servicing. Make sure to take a picture of the serial number and the part number that you are replacing. This will help with documenting the service performed. Also, you will be able to show the client visually what you repaired.”
The idea saves a lot of explaining, according to Whelan. He says that there are a lot of free apps that you can download to your phone.
“You can actually attach a word bubble to the picture and you can type in a description for the photo,” Whelan says. “PicSay is the best free app that I have used for this.”
“Develop and maintain a strong working knowledge of the principles and practices associated with electrical power distribution systems in hospitals, and especially in any remaining areas that still use isolated power systems,” Fennigkoh says. “Such knowledge will allow you to put electrical safety concerns, the appropriate use of power taps, etcetera in their proper perspective.”
When all is Said and Done
Scales summarizes what many veteran HTM professionals know.
“Your job is not just about the technology. In many respects that is the easy part,” he says. “It is critical that you understand the clinical practice that the technology supports and how to help the clinical practitioners better utilize the technology and solve problems. Our role, as HTM professionals, is to help ensure that the patient has the most effective and safe experience while in our care.”
“Never lose focus on the identity of your true customers; patients,” Howe says. “Some may argue that their customers are the doctors and nurses, who use the equipment, but without the patients, the doctors and nurses would not be needed; nor would the medical technology.”
Misner reflects one last bit of wisdom.
“Always do the job as if the equipment you are working on may be used on your family,” he says.
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