An objective look at life today reveals how many routines and practices have changed since March of 2020. As a result of the pandemic, face masks, social distancing and excessive handwashing are the norm. On the other hand, dining out and travel were systematically stymied amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Attendance at gatherings was limited to a small percentage of what would have been the norm. Classes in schools and colleges depended on virtual models until local pandemic metrics improved enough to allow for in-person classes.
The shift in learning was a challenge for many school systems as students, teachers and administrators had to shift to platforms that they may not have been familiar with and that transition needed to happen quickly.
The virtual learning models have relied upon software that facilitated classroom instruction, grading, test taking, teacher feedback, communication and most other functions that were traditionally handled in person.
In addition to the challenges faced by students and instructors, there have also been challenges for organizations that routinely provide continuing education units (CEUs) or credits.
This continuing education (CE) challenge has impacted many industries.
Doctors and nurses have had the challenge of earning CEUs while treating COVID-19 patients. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been busy keeping the nation abreast of the latest COVID-19 information. It has also continued to provide health care professionals with continuing education activities. Healthcare technology management (HTM) professionals also had obstacles to overcome when it came to earning continuing education credits.
How has delivery of this important prerequisite for many professions been facilitated with the lockdowns and social distancing requirements during the pandemic? And, more importantly, how have HTM professionals earned CEUs to earn or maintain certifications?
The saving grace for continuing education requirements has been the capability to deliver the necessary coursework and classes virtually via webinars and other tools. For all of the shortcomings of the Internet; without it, the likelihood of meeting the requirements of earning CEUs during a pandemic would be greatly diminished.
From OEMs to associations, publishers to colleges, the switch to a virtual teaching environment allowed for contactless, safe and effective dissemination of the material required for earning CEUs during a challenging period.
“This has become a concern for a number of individuals across all of health care, to include HTM. When you look at the number of certifications across health care, there is a significant need for approved/accepted CEUs. Based on my experience the majority of these provide you with the requirements for recertification and allow a specific timeframe for completion,” says Mike Busdicker, CHTM, FACHE, system director of clinical engineering at Intermountain Healthcare in Midvale, Utah.
He says that it is very important for individuals to understand the requirements and ensure they are accumulating and documenting required CEUs over the approved timeframe.
Although intuitively, it could be assumed that webinars are a fairly new concept, they actually date back to the late 1980s. The original concept was that they were a “web seminar,” which was later shortened to “webinar.” As has been the case with most other platforms on the Internet, the webinar was refined and software was developed to add capabilities to the concept.
By 1996, Microsoft had introduced NetMeeting and by 1999, the company launched WebEx Meeting Center, which later became simply Webex.
In the intervening years, many new and updated platforms have been introduced, including MyOwnConference, Google Meet and GoToWebinar. During the early months of the pandemic, the platform called Zoom received a lot of press and news coverage as a necessary tool. The company’s stock zoomed as well.
The webinar format had been a staple at MD Publishing well before the pandemic necessitated it as an essential work-around. MD Publishing’s webinars have always been a valuable source for CEUs. COVID-19 only ramped up the suitability of the offering. The webinars are available at WebinarWednesday.live.
“MD Publishing offers several outlets to earn CE credits including our most popular format, which is our ‘Webinar Wednesday’ webinar series. Airing weekly at 2 p.m. EST for nearly eight years, Webinar Wednesday has become the go-to resource for HTM professionals to get the continuing education they need,” says Kristin Leavoy, vice president of MD Publishing.
In addition to webinars, MD Publishing added new opportunities for HTM professionals to gain continuing education.
“This past year, we launched our on-demand webinar series as well as podcasts. The podcasts are an excellent resource for users because they can be listened to anytime, anywhere without the requirement to be in front of a computer to view the content,” Leavoy says.
The Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) found itself faced with having to reshuffle training courses quickly at the beginning of the pandemic.
In an AAMI News article, AAMI Director of Education M.J. McLaughlin wrote about that experience.
March 2020, McLaughlin says, forced his team to stop investigating and planning and to instead take quick and definitive action. “We had a course scheduled at our facility in Arlington for the week after everything shut down,” he recalls. ‘Six days to prepare – that’s all the time we had to go completely virtual.”
The story goes on to say, “The good news for that event and the others that followed: Almost everyone seemed amenable to making online education work. ‘People mostly understood, and in a lot of cases it’s what they preferred to do anyway.’ ”
AAMI has continued to offer several continuing education offerings online.
“In addition to the AAMI Credentials Institute’s CEU Pre-Approval program, which vets and approves select trainings that are HTM-related for CEUs, AAMI also offers monthly HTMLive! webinars that are worth 1 CEU per webinar and are free of charge,” McLaughlin says.
The HTM Live! webinars are free for AAMI members and $30 per session for non-members.
McLaughlin says that to renew an ACI certification, there are plenty of CEU activities that can be done remotely and without spending any money.
“For example, individuals can write an HTM-related article for an AAMI publication (IE: ranging from an AAMI News editorial to a peer-reviewed study in BI&T) that is published for CEUs towards the recertification of their certification. To find more ways to earn CEUs, please visit www.aami.org/aci and click ‘Continuing Practice Journal’ to see a detailed CEU Guide,” McLaughlin adds.
The convenience of receiving training and CEU opportunities online has been met with appreciation from those who have participated.
“Participants show up week after week for the content we provide and their feedback is overwhelmingly positive,” Leavoy says about TechNation’s Webinar Wednesday series.
Providers of CEU opportunities have had to adjust to the changing landscape of a pandemic in order to make training convenient and available. Those who manage HTM departments also had to consider how their staffs would meet CE requirements without the option of classroom or OEM training off-site.
“The 2020 pandemic led to the cancellation of numerous conferences, to include the AAMI Exchange, resulting in limited opportunities to acquire approved CEUs. As we move into the future, and the ‘new normal,’ caregivers will need to be much more proactive with career development and certification renewals. Caregivers will not be able to wait until year three, of a three-year renewal cycle, to get required CEUs,” Busdicker says.
He also points out that another area of importance includes an ability to utilize acquired CEUs across more than one certification. In other words, can CEUs acquired through virtual attendance of American College of Healthcare Executives training sessions be utilized to meet AAMI requirements for CHTM recertification?
“For meeting CE requirements, my team was able to maintain, and was encouraged to seek out, more virtually available sources to meet the requirements. A lot of our normal conferences, from the annual AAMI Expo to our local HTM group, had to adapt and make available offerings via webinars, which actually went over a little better due the flexibility and lower costs,” says Anthony McCabe, MBOE, MBA, LSSBB, director of clinical engineering and central equipment at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
He says that the weekly webinars were also great. His team was attending them before the pandemic and continued to do so.
“As far as obtaining CEUs from official training, we did take advantage of a couple of virtual options that some manufacturers switched to and had already had set up to help reduce cost and the complexity of sending people out across the country,” McCabe adds.
The trend in virtual avenues is likely to supplement a return to in-person events, according to one director.
“The pandemic has brought about many opportunities to re-evaluate CEU training opportunities. AAMI Exchange is fully online, ACCE has more webinars, TechNation still does Webinar Wednesday, and local BMET societies made similar adjustments,” says Tony Cody, CHTM, Tech Management/ENTECH director at Banner Health in Colorado.
“I do believe that this will continue through most of this year, but more in-person meetings and trainings will begin to gradually re-establish itself. Zoom meetings have a place, but I know people miss the face-to-face interactions,” Cody says.
He says that he encourages his team to get involved with webinars, as it helps them grow professionally and helps them maintain certifications.
“Moving forward into 2021, we are still playing it safe and keeping up on the virtual webinars available, but we are starting to send people out to technical trainings to keep our competency and coverages up while our staff members are getting their CEUs,” McCabe says.
While COVID-19 mandates included strict social distancing and the avoidance of crowds, the emergence of coronavirus vaccines is relaxing some of the measures. As a result, the remainder of 2021 will include a mix of online and in-person opportunities for HTM professionals.
“We will continue to offer the incredible webinars and podcasts attendees have come to enjoy, but we will also be offering several in-person CE opportunities for those looking to engage with presenters directly and participate in a conference environment,” Leavoy says.
One of those events was the recent MD Expo held in Dallas, Texas. The conference attendance reached 566 people with continuing education sessions, an exhibit hall and networking events.
Upcoming events include an HTM Mixer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on July 14-15 and an HTM Mixer in Kansas City, Missouri on September 9-10. For more information, visit HTMmixer.com. Also, the fall MD Expo will be held in Las Vegas on November 1-2. For details, visit MDExpoShow.com.
“AAMI will continue to offer monthly HTMLive! webinars that are worth 1 CEU each. AAMI will also be offering up to 25 CEUs for the five-day Exchange Rewired event that will be a virtual event from June 7-11. Essentially, attending the full virtual Exchange Rewired event, plus five HTMLive! webinars, will give someone the 30 CEUs they’d need for their three-year reporting journal. For more information about the Exchange Rewired or the HTMLive! calendar, please visit www.aami.org/events,” McLaughlin says.
Many experts have pointed out that the pandemic’s impact on culture and life as we have known it may be more permanent than most people would like to believe. There is little doubt that it will weigh on the psyche of most people for years. Many companies shifted employees to remote positions and many of those people will continue to work from home. The process on obtaining CEUs will likely evolve as well.
“COVID-19 really acted as a catalyst for the modernization of AAMI Education. Luckily the education department is made up a solid team of flexible and innovative staff who were able to take a predominantly face-to-face training design and shift it to virtual delivery in less than a week’s time,” McLaughlin says.
He finds a glimmer of optimism coming out of the experience of dealing with the pandemic. He says that while it was daunting at first, it’s definitely allowed AAMI to grow and offer more training to a larger pool of industry professionals from around the world. He adds that training opportunities are now endless.
Busdicker says that this topic needs to be on the minds of all caregivers currently holding or acquiring any certifications.
“Leaders within HTM, and health care, must assist with the process through mentoring and providing opportunities for development,” he says.
While avenues exist for the acquisition of CEUs, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a seismic change in both culture and behavior. In-person events are returning, but virtual options will continue to play a significant role when it comes to meeting one’s continuing education needs.
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