What does the future hold for hospital based biomedical engineering programs? Could disruptive technological innovations and changes in the healthcare landscape make us obsolete? A question we must ask when pondering our future is; are there changes in culture or technology that will affect us?
Historically, there are many occupations and industries that disruptive technologies have either made obsolete or forced significant job reductions. Jobs for toll collectors, postal workers, travel agents, telephone operators, television repairmen and machinists all are declining. Many organizations are finding that their IT help desk is gradually becoming superfluous as the workforce becomes more technically knowledgeable.
Technological and cultural changes not only affect occupations, they also can drastically alter the future of companies who do not react well to the changes that affect them. In January of 2012, Eastman Kodak filed for bankruptcy. At one time, they had dominated the photography industry, but their inability to react to the impact of digital photography and digital photo storage caused their rapid decline.
History teaches us that change is inevitable and while we can not control the future technological and cultural changes that may affect us; we can control how we react to them. Some of the changes that I foresee are:
New Generations of Caregivers Are Device Savvy – As the Boomer Generation retires, the newer physicians, nurses and other caregivers who come into healthcare will have grown up with technology. This group, known as the “Net Generation”, has always lived in a connected world. They are not intimidated or frustrated by technology and are quick to adopt new devices. They will expect (or demand) connectivity across all devices from the bedside to tablets, wearable technologies, and smart phones.
New Generations of Caregivers Collaborate Differently – The Net Generation, many of whom grew up with Skype, Google Talk and Facebook, are always “connected”. When they encounter problems, they can collaborate rapidly and easily with others regardless of the time of day or their location. When they need assistance from biomedical departments and others, they are likely to expect them to be fully connected and able to view, identify, discuss and solve problems remotely 24X7.
The Smart Phone Will Affect Device Design – The Net Generation will expect medical devices to mimic the design approach taken by Smart Phones and tablets. They will expect all applications to be intuitive and easy to use without the necessity for extended in-service training. They also will expect all devices to be accessible via Cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Near Field communications. Users will expect devices to use Gorilla Glass and have touch screens to render them free of failure prone knobs, switches and keypads.
Devices will fail less often – Manufacturers are adopting improved manufacturing techniques and quality control methodologies that are resulting in products that are more reliable. They are also improving their ability to analyze field failures and take action for their prevention.
The Internet of Things (IOT) Will Reduce the Need for Planned Maintenance and Operational Testing – The next generation of devices will have built in self testing. Via the IOT, they will be connected to sophisticated analytical software that will monitor their operational status continuously. This will not only allow manufacturers to spot problems before they occur, but it will reduce the need for routine planned maintenance and operational testing.
The effect of all these changes may be a reduction in the number of user errors, fewer device failures, and less need for planned maintenance programs. Since these are the primary services offered by many HTM departments, they may find themselves playing a gradually decreasing role within their hospitals while simultaneously being required to reduce staff. While we may not be able to control whether or not these changes happen, we can control how we react to them.
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