In general when a person talks about biomeds they will say that they are a great team that are technically savvy and always happy to “tinker” away on any medical device of concern. In the past, it was “OK” for a biomed to expect to simply come to work, sit at the bench eight hours and go home, but this is no longer the case.
The expectations placed on biomedical departments and staff are evolving as medical technology becomes more prominent in health care and related fields. These expectations never included knowledge of the machine patient interaction, complex internal computer settings, complex mechanical components or general IT troubleshooting when devices had network connections. In fact, if a biomed had any of these qualities it was a great bonus to the department and workplace. They were never previously a requirement, yet today they are.
“So what’s next?” asks every biomedical department. “What trend will take biomeds to the next level?”
It’s the gift of gab. That’s right, one of the most important things a biomed will need to be successful in their career is the ability to communicate in a clear, concise, relatable and emotionally aware fashion. This is a teachable skill and will make the difference between a good customer experience and a bearable one. Yet, most biomed shops will spend thousands of dollars training staff to perform technical work with little to no time or money spent on soft skills such as this. Often management does not see a fiscal return on investments for this type of training and without one a biomed’s request for this type of training is often turned down. This culture must change and evolve. Performing maintenance is now only part of what we do as biomeds.
In today’s world, biomeds are called upon to perform maintenance and also to engage with customers such as nurses and speak to them in ways that will ensure a positive outcome. It is no longer acceptable to perform a repair in silence and drop an item back off for use without speaking to the customer. Today’s biomeds instead must think about the soft side of customer service that is normally only captured in pulse surveys as more and more facilities turn to alternative equipment service solutions. Each frontline team member should always keep in mind that we are all replaceable and it’s the relationships we hold that may stop a hospital from outsourcing or prevent a biologics manufacturer from having an “always call the OEM in for service” policy.
Yes, odds are the biomed department you are in right now is doing a great job, but without proper communication skills we need to ask ourselves does the customer know that or just our manager?
Oftentimes managers are promoted due to these soft skills and that’s why its not always the most technically savvy biomed who gets promoted. In fact, it’s quite likely that any successful biomed manager has middle-of-the-pack level technical abilities but an above average communication skill set. In the past, this was fine since only managers/supervisors attended meetings and represented our departments. Now, however, biomed is being pulled into multiple different worlds and the frontline is often asked to attend meetings and speak on behalf of our departments. Let alone in a general day on the job a frontline biomed will generally interact with 10 people (co-workers, management, customers) and each of those interactions are seen as reflections of the biomedical department.
Overall, communication skills are often a forgotten trait to develop in the biomedical industry and yet it can be the key to keeping our departments intact – if not expanding. It is time for a culture change where we recognize that all levels of biomedical interactions are vital to our success. We need to invest in our people in a way that will show up in longevity, departmental growth, frontline job satisfaction and employee engagement instead of just hurrying to train on the newest technology. So, I urge all biomeds and biomed managers to dare to take a portion of the money set aside for professional development and use it toward developing themselves in ways that will better themselves and the department. This way may not immediately show up in your expansion of service offerings or technical skill sets, but it will help with your department’s growth of intangible assets that are never really assigned hard numbers. These intangibles are becoming more and more important as departments, service companies and biomeds look to separate themselves from the pack and show that they are ready for the next step in the evolution of biomedical engineering services.
James Linton MSIM, PMP, CMBB, is a professor of biomedical engineering at St. Clair College.
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