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Clinical engineering (CE) departments have a bigger role than ever before in the financial success of their hospitals. How you manage your healthcare technology management (HTM) staff can make a big impact.

Tim Moss, Director of Resident Based Programs at Agiliti, has more than 20 years of experience working in the clinical engineering space. In this Ask the Expert article, Tim provides insights from his days as a Biomed director on ways to strengthen your team and add more value to your organization.Q: How can an organization help its Biomed technicians be more productive? A: Effectively managing your equipment is about more than fixing the equipment on time. It’s also about balancing the workload of staff based on the type of equipment in the organization.

Analyze how much time your team spends servicing high-value and high-revenue generating equipment versus low-value and low-revenue equipment. Then review the level of techs and the type of equipment they are working on. Are your BMET 3s working on lower-end devices just to “put out the fires”? If they are, is this preventing them from servicing higher-end equipment?

Up to 40% of HTM staff time is spent on non-value-added work such as searching for equipment, assessing unbroken assets due to operator error and juggling the details of multiple vendor contracts. Look for ways to eliminate some of these basic equipment management responsibilities. Can you outsource some low-end work to alleviate the time-consuming burden on your highly skilled biomed team members?

There is more value in having your most talented staff members focus on high-value devices that have an immediate financial impact when it’s not available for patient use.

Q: What’s one quick win a CE department can leverage to bring more value to their organization?

A: Be the bridge between your clinical and supply chain partners. Most hospitals don’t grasp the broader implications of medical equipment downtime, or view it the same way as a CE does, which can increase overall hospital costs.

For example, how is the clinical staff impacted when equipment is not available? What’s the true impact on the patients who need that equipment? Is there not enough equipment, or can it not be found?

If clinicians think there isn’t enough equipment ready for patient use, most supply chain teams respond by buying or renting more. Which is odd considering that the average hospital’s equipment inventory is only used 40% at any given time. Instead of fixing the problem, buying more only increases your service workload. The bigger the load, the longer the downtime and the more your equipment and service costs rise. It also further increases your technicians’ unproductive time as they expend more time locating equipment. It’s a vicious cycle.

By connecting with your counterparts in the clinical and supply chain departments, a CE department can gain visibility into the bigger picture. This, in turn, provides invaluable insights that can shift the organization’s focus from needing more equipment to better managing the equipment they already own.

Q: What’s one long-term tactic that a clinical engineering department can implement to improve their value to the organization?  

A: Go beyond managing the service of your hospital’s equipment. Challenge your staff with higher-value technological projects. Hospitals across the country are increasingly looking for their clinical engineering experts to play a bigger role in providing emerging technology assessments. As devices become more and more sophisticated, there’s an opportunity for CE departments to play a bigger role in capital planning, technology recommendations and managing data security.

Q: What can an organization do to reduce HTM staff turnover? 

A: Technician turnover is a real challenge for CE directors. In fact, 69% of senior leaders believe there’s a chronic shortage of technical talent. It’s a trend that is only going to continue to grow and prove more costly as a large segment of the workforce retires.

One way to reduce turnover is by establishing a strategic career plan for your biomed technicians. Help them build critical project management skills that enable them to lead special projects, and eliminate non-productive work (searching for equipment, addressing operator error issues, etc.). Offer continuous education to improve IT abilities on current and new products. Set goals which demonstrate the daily and direct impact your CE team has on the financial and clinical outcomes of the hospital.

In the process, you’ll accomplish two things. First, you’ll gain more value out of your high performers as they up-skill to work on higher-end equipment. Second, and most importantly, you will begin to create a culture in which technicians want to participate.

Q: What options does a clinical engineering department have when it is so busy that they can’t afford to be down a technician for training/career development?

A: If your clinical engineering team is struggling to find time for training, career development or other non-core tasks, consider recruiting additional temporary help. Identifying additional outside resources that can help you with the lower-end equipment can help you focus on your staff and have the time for them to get additional training. Look for partners that have a local presence and technicians that can flex in and out of your facility as needed on an on-demand basis.

Your technicians’ career and skill development are going to ultimately determine their job satisfaction and willingness to stay on board. The total cost to replace a technician is far greater than the cost of block-of-time or hourly outside technical support.

Courtesy Tim Moss, Agiliti

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