Many in our profession ask why Information Technology (IT) departments have achieved such prominence within hospitals while many Biomedical Engineering Programs have not progressed. I think that the answer is simple; although many IT Departments repair computers, they do not see their primary role as the hospital’s computer repair shop. Repair is merely an adjunct to their leadership role of bringing the latest information technology to their institutions. As technology leaders, they work closely with department heads and senior management to integrate information technology into hospital operations making them more efficient. Many biomedical departments seem to have done the opposite. Instead of viewing device maintenance as an adjunct their services, they made it their primary function. Consequently, they lost the high ground and did not become technology leaders. Instead, they became in house repair facilities with a focus on reducing repair costs.
When we look back at the early development of hospital based biomedical engineering programs, our role was very similar to that of IT. Physicians, nurses and administrators understood that if they were going to introduce the use of technological devices to improve patient care they would need the assistance of engineers who had a deeper understanding of the involved technologies. Biomedical engineers, on the other hand realized that they had to develop a deeper understanding of the medical procedures and nursing practices that might benefit from using technology. This required developing a corps of biomedical professionals who understood that within the healthcare environment their role was to become a team member with physicians, caregivers and other technologists in advancing technology related patient care. Although a logical adjunct to the engineer’s effort was to also manage a department responsible for calibration, repair and testing of medical devices it was not their primary focus.
I have often wondered why the shift occurred. Was it bad leadership? Was it a lack of an organization to establish professional goals? Did schools cause the problem by teaching only device repair, thereby graduating scores of technicians who thought that was their only role? Whatever the reason, we need to ask if it is possible to turn things around and change the way other healthcare professionals perceive us. We need to ask what steps we should take to change. Although I don’t know many of the answers, I do know that nothing will happen unless each of us takes the first step. I think that each person has to take off their repairer’s hat. Each person and department should stop measuring their success by the number of devices or departments they service. Once they have achieved that shift in thinking they may then be in a position to reach across to nurses, physicians and other caregivers and assist with the introduction of new technologies that are in the best interests of patient care regardless of any of subjective interests as to who will perform the repairs.
Your comments and suggestions are welcome.
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