By Gregory Goll, CHTM, CBET
There has been a rapid evolution between the world of healthcare technology management (HTM) and information technologies (IT). In the beginning, these two fields had a definite line of separation of exactly which group maintained which equipment. The HTM department was primarily focused on devices that were directly involved in patient care. IT was focused on workstations and networks. An example of this were patient monitoring systems. These systems resided on their own segregated vendor supplied network. The technology of transmitting patient data into an electronic medical record (EMR) was still evolving.
Very rapidly, HTM staff needed to evolve because devices were being networked between separate physical locations. This created an entirely new set of challenges – especially involving patient safety. A greater need was identified to understand network topology and the different components that make up an IT network.
Early intervention by HTM staff became increasingly important in the identification of which devices needed to be networked and why. Another important concern involved the associated costs involved with building the supporting IT network.
When most older buildings were designed there was, in many cases, little or no concern about creating a space where IT network equipment could be located. A building made in the 1950s would have been more concerned with the location of standard facility systems such as electrical, plumbing and heat. Early HTM/IT networks were forced to find space within the existing building’s structure to exist. The environment where the equipment was installed also became a concern. The locations might require additional climate control. Additional power requirements needed to be considered. New devices are much more sensitive to heat exposure and power interruption.
Now, cooperation between HTM and IT is more important than ever. It is now part of the HTM professional’s role to understand the IT world and the roles of project management in their respective work environment.
In order to save money, hospitals began to explore options such as combining different types of equipment on the same internal networks. This opened an entirely new area of concern. If a network was not designed to carry real time patient information, there can be issues with time delays in data transmission. A new technical skill set is required for understanding data transmission across a network.
Once HTM equipment became dependent on similar software to IT systems, another group of challenges emerged. Operating system software became a concern, the ability to integrate different software programs opened a new required skill set. When purchasing new equipment there is a new importance in understanding the life cycle of the software. Devices may incorporate a vendor software, which requires a separate software to operate properly. Now companies such as Microsoft directly are part of the proper operation of a medical device.
The documentation challenges became more complicated. The tracking of all the software revisions used becomes very important. An end-of-life letter for a software such as Windows now may completely change the useable life of a critical device.
Information security is the new horizon that all technical professionals face. The securing of patient information is a major concern. Patient information has become a large target for hackers. Confidential patient information can easily be sold. Cybersecurity takes on several forms from physically securing devices, securing access to sensitive areas and creation of protective data firewalls to prevent unauthorized access to a network.
All these challenges also open a world of opportunities for an HTM professional. This will continue to evolve in the future. The ability for HTM professionals to evolve amid these new challenges will help ensure job security and allow for future opportunities.
For more information, check out the presentation recorded at MD Expo Atlanta earlier this year at tinyurl.com/2ecryv3s.
– Gregory Goll, CHTM, CBET, is a manager of projects and medical imaging services department for the WellStar Health System.
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