By Jim Fedele
The life of a biomedical engineer is full of challenges and issues that seem to sap our time and energy. It is easy in the flurry of government regulations, Joint Commission compliance and battling OEMs to lose sight of our primary focus, which is the patient. The patient should be our top priority with all the other aspects of our job being second. Biomedical techs are technical and task-oriented people, I think we sometimes get consumed with the daily operations and forget where our priorities should be.
“Always follow your true north” was the main point in one of my first manager training seminars at the Susquehanna Health System. The “true north” represents the mission of the organization and subsequently our personal mission. The presenter discussed how aligning all of our activities to our “true north” will ensure that everything we do will always advance the mission of the organization. This mindset provides the guidance to all decision making. Steven Covey, author of the book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective” people, conveys a similar message when he states “Begin with the end in mind.” For me, this one principle embodies all we need to do to ensure we are taking care of our patients.
However, as with so many other things in life, what is easy to say, is not always so easy to do. When the biomedical engineer is going about his/her day there are many opportunities for distractions. A common example is when a biomedical engineer receives a call from Nurse Kelly that her patient monitor is not working. The biomedical tech checks the unit out and cannot find anything wrong with it. He promptly returns it with a “no problem found” comment, from this point there are many scenarios. The tech may in-service Nurse Kelly, he may argue with Nurse Kelly because she has not taken the time to learn the equipment, or he may do nothing and just return it to service. Depending on what assumptions the tech makes he/she may choose a solution to this problem that is not in the best interest of the patient.
The issue of money and costs are constant concerns for everyone in the organization. They can also distract us from fulfilling our true mission. The biomed tech’s responsibility is to balance quality, delivery, price and safety with almost every repair. The problem is these aspects often contradict each other. Choices must be made carefully to ensure there is not a negative impact on patients. Medical equipment manufacturers impede this balance as parts seem to be exorbitantly expensive. When I have discussed this with manufacturers, they hide behind terms like “quality control,” “compliance” and “safety.” Yet, we still receive parts from the OEM that are defective.
My point is we need to focus on our patients as our most important customer. To some people this may seem like a pointless task. After all biomedical engineers typically have very little direct patient contact. However, the majority of their work does. In my mind, if all we do is worry about repairing devices, we have done a disservice to our industry. If we go back to the scenario with Nurse Kelly with a patient-focused mindset the solution would play out differently. Thinking about how a patient who is sick and needs help might be negatively affected by the malfunction equipment, the tech would work with Nurse Kelly to understand the problem she had with device, ensuring the problem is not intermittent. He would also tactfully work with Nurse Kelly on the operation of the device. Finally, the tech would follow up later to ensure the problem has not reoccurred.
If biomeds are truly going to be patient focused we need to be the biggest supporters of our facilities’ nurses. Imagine if a biomed tech was in the process of performing a very crucial and important PM, the PM had been scheduled for weeks ahead of time and the tech is working hard at completing it in the allocated time. In addition, the tech has three more units waiting in the queue, suddenly the tech’s most crucial piece of test equipment fails. To say there would be an emotional response is the only way I can describe it in this medium. This is how a nurse feels when she is trying to treat a patient and his/her “tool” fails. However the “device” she is working on is a person! At least our equipment doesn’t talk back to us.
If one really wants to understand what it means to be “patient focused” try being the patient yourself. Go through the admitting process, and have some test done, see what it is like to get an MRI or have radiation treatment. Then, imagine that the equipment malfunctioned while they were using it on you. That feeling is what you need to keep in heart, so you can maintain your resolves and always follow your “true north.”
Jim Fedele, CBET, is the senior director of clinical engineering for UPMC. He magazines six Susquehanna Health hospitals. He has 30 years of HTM experience and has worked for multiple service organizations. Send questions or comments to Editor@MDPublishing.com.
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