In financial services, there is a standard called “know your customer.” It is the requirement that a financial advisor must be well-aware of each client’s risk tolerance, investment knowledge and current financial positions before rendering advice. In that way, they are not making unsuitable recommendations and the client will be helped in the most relevant way possible.
In order to know their clients, a financial advisor needs to spend time with them, ask questions, assess their overall situation and make reasonable and appropriate recommendations.
Listening is key. Professional salespeople learn this lesson, successful business people know this rule and those who provide service to customers find that the rule goes a long way in promoting effective communication.
Empathy is also a good habit to practice. Understanding what a customer is going through, what their needs are and what steps will meet those needs will result in satisfied customers. An awareness of the customer’s business requirements, protocols and demands helps with providing the best level of service possible.
The role of the financial advisor is not that far removed from that of the HTM professional. An understanding of each department’s needs and the best practices for resolving their concerns go a long way toward winning positive feedback and great inter-departmental relationships.
“Communication is always the key. It’s important to make sure that each department knows that we are all on the same team with the same objective; patient care,” says Matthew Kenney, CHTM, director of HTM/biomed at Aiken Regional Medical Centers in Aiken, South Carolina.
Kenney says that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, realizing the extra strain on nursing allows his biomeds to show empathy to their clinical colleagues.
“For my department, we understand that nursing has a lot on their plates; especially now. So, we want to help them in any way. If they need extra IV pumps, they call us and we go find them for them. Need extra beds? We will bring them to you. We want to leave them to doing what they do best. At the same time, when we are on the search for equipment and we have a nurse or a tech help us in locating said equipment, we always reward them. We hand out meal tickets so they can treat themselves to a free lunch or breakfast,” Kenney says.
He says that this also works when they have unlocatable equipment.
“We also incorporate housekeeping in helping to find missing equipment. They go into every room to clean, so if we can get them a picture of what we are looking for and a tag number, they are usually our best bet in finding that lost equipment,” Kenney adds.
Framing HTM’s role in the health care ecosystem is part of the challenge when dealing with clinical staff. Biomeds are much more than a repair person. They have a broad skill set to manage medical equipment throughout its lifecycle. Addressing the full breadth of the HTM department’s abilities is an important component in establishing a mutually respected relationship.
“When I first stepped into leadership, during the meet and greet, the CMO of one of the hospitals laughingly summarized biomed as the ‘fix it people; make sure the equipment turns on and make sure it works.’ I understood his view, which is common, but desperately wanted to make it known that our duties and goals stretched far beyond just fixing equipment. At that moment, I made it a goal to redefine the image of biomed and to promote our position within the health care system,” says Douglas Redwine, operations manager of the Healthcare Technology Management (HTM) Department for the Central Region of Texas Health.
Redwine says that he began exploring how his department operated and how others viewed them.
“I determined that our biggest room for improving was by becoming more personable as a department. We had the business side of things correct; dashboards, real-time reports and etcetera. But we were missing the emphasis on the major factor of our duties, which is the customer service aspect,” he says.
He found a few things to successfully promote HTM and, as a result, bridge the communication gap with other departments.
“Right after the aforementioned meeting, I began asking my staff how they described what they did for a living to other people. To my surprise, I discovered they basically viewed themselves as the ‘fix-it people’ as well, which was an eye opener and explained why others viewed us as such. As a result, I created a department mission and vision statement to clearly define who we are, what we do and how we do it,” Redwine says.
He says that he highlighted the fact that the HTM team was in the business of customer service and its first goal is to deliver excellent service to its valued customers.
“I also included in our vision that we strove to be an integral and visible part of the health care environment. I worked with my team and made the mission our mode of operation. I began sharing our mission statement with leads of other departments in our meetings and whenever I submitted any documentation, I made sure to include it. It was very effective in communicating to other departments our desire to serve and work alongside them as we did our job,” Redwine says.
He says that next, they focused on making an extra effort to check-in with other departments outside of scheduled meetings or when they were summoned to address an issue.
“Usually biomed attends environment of care (EOC) meetings, shares the pertinent data concerning work orders and PM completion, but often there wasn’t much staff interaction other than techs retrieving and returning patient equipment,” Redwine says.
“I sought to eliminate the strictly business mentality and encouraged my team to increase rounding of departments (I count it as productivity) to be more visible and to proactively engage staff. This has gone a long way to foster a sense of community and helped build better working relationships with other departments,” he adds.
Redwine says that in the past, he had observed that some departments – especially facilities and IT – had a “pass the buck” attitude toward biomed.
“If there was an issue that related to patient equipment and wasn’t clearly defined it would often get discarded as; ‘that’s a biomed issue,’ and their willingness to partner up or investigate further was not forthcoming,” he says.
“But, through the building of good working relationships, we have overcome that mentality and work on projects and incidentals as well with great cooperation. For my part, I not only attend pertinent meetings, but I make sure to lead by example and join in on visiting sites and rounding as much as possible,” Redwine adds.
As stated earlier, communication is key to keeping customers satisfied and addressing their needs. There are ways to avoid a gap in these communications and keeping everyone on the same page.
“When I think of communication gaps, I think of the areas that operate through some form of ‘tribal knowledge;’ the support areas usually report to different leaders therefore there isn’t a clear understanding of who does what. There is nothing in writing of who does what that everyone has agreed on and typically these communication problems surface when issues don’t get resolved that require collaboration from multiple departments,” says Matt Royal, MS, CTM, CHSP, CHFSP, CHEP, CHTM, CLSO-M, CHC, CHFM, CBET, director of biomedical engineering at Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis, Indiana.
He says that an HTM department can be a catalyst for starting and facilitating the tribal knowledge and getting it into a document that can be shared.
“As a starting foundation, my process is to bring together the department leaders and have a brainstorming session on all the areas of support; whether that is service, education, operations, patient experience or performance improvement. For example, a hospital’s bed management process typically has multiple departments involved; HTM for service, nursing as the users, EVS as the group that cleans the beds. There may be requirements for rental beds or bed movement by a transportation department,” Royal says.
He says that getting a support document that everyone agrees on closes the communication gap and can ultimately help establish ownership and understanding of who does what, but can also lead to performance improvement initiatives and shared goals.
Royal says that another goal of closing the communication gap is developing a plan, with other department’s contingency plans, for back up equipment; this has multiple benefits.
“The benefit for the clinical team is they don’t have to cancel or reschedule appointments; the benefit for HTM, it can offer some cost savings on a repair where emergency service or overnight shipping costs might be avoided. When there is poor contingency planning, the communication is often bad and everyone suffers,” he says.
He says that any support documentation or contingency documentation should also include a communication plan.
“This plan should include who to notify and when they are notified. The ‘who to notify’ can be considered an escalation notification depending on the issue and the group that needs to be informed. The ‘when they are notified’ can be considered for how often an update is communicated. Formalizing these communication plans can close communication gaps, take communication out of tribal knowledge and build a culture of reliable communication and operations,” Royal adds.
The other approach to building a unified team among departments is to actively pursue involvement in multi-department activities.
“My remedy to improve communication was to encourage my team to be more active in the life of the hospital. I found that there were plenty of things going on but biomed seldom participated. I begin joining in on various events and encouraging my team to take some time to join in on the fun and community events,” Redwine says.
He says that whenever possible, they make sure biomed volunteers in charity runs, serving meals, clothes drive, staff softball games, dress up day and other events.
“I’ve seen evidence of boosted morale and camaraderie by my team members after participating in the extracurricular activities,” he says.
“It’s pretty simplistic, but the adjustment to becoming customer service-focused has greatly improved our presence and perceived value within the hospital environment. Of course, we definitely are still the ‘fix it people,’ but now we are recognized as part of the team. This year, I was overwhelmed by the many acknowledgements and accolades from staff during HTM Week. I’ve been in the business for a long time and had never witnessed that type of recognition for HTM. It was a pretty awesome change,” Redwine says.
Part of keeping communication flowing between biomed and other departments is through participation in forums that bring together various department representatives. Kenney provides one example of how this can work.
“I also have joined in on the Patient Safety Council. This council is made up of all the players that are scored through HCAPS; nursing, housekeeping, radiology, registration and others,” he says.
“I am the only director in the group that does not have a direct impact on HCAP scores. What I bring to the meeting is an outside set of eyes and a vocal opinion on how we can improve as a team. I also run the hospital safety huddle every day. This huddle is for all directors to go over safety issues and report-outs of the previous 24 hours. This puts HTM directly in the spotlight as a strong voice in the hospital through leadership. It also allows me to bring up any issues that may be causing equipment failures or other pertinent information as it pertains to HTM,” Kenney says.
He adds that the HTM department utilizes an online work order system that nursing can use, but they prefer the one-on-one interaction to give staff the feeling that HTM genuinely cares about their needs.
“We don’t want them to get the idea that their work orders are just put on top of a stack of others. We pride ourselves on direct contact and immediate results. We have a slogan that I believe has been adopted in many places and that is, ‘We are in this together.’ We truly live that every day. We don’t ever say ‘No.’ We don’t ever say ‘That’s not my job.’ Instead, we say ‘Let me take a look at that for you’ and if it’s something that isn’t us, we take it upon ourselves to make the secondary contact for the nursing units,” Kenney adds.
He says that all this work could not be possible without his great HTM team members.
“They bought into my philosophy right away and it’s now second nature. I couldn’t ask for a better team. We also have buy-in from administration. They lean on our expertise and value what it brings to the table. We are not just a department in the basement to be forgotten (we are actually on the top floor of the hospital),” Kenney says.
“In the end, we lead by example and can always be counted on when called upon,” he adds.
The ability for an HTM department to build relationships with customers, administration and vendors shows a willingness to be a beneficial partner. Listening and active participation within the larger health care team reminds everyone of HTM’s value and importance.
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