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From Unsung Hero to Most Valuable Player

By: Jim Keller

I’ve been thinking about my high school wrestling days since the recent passing of our team’s longtime coach, Howard Crozier. Mr Crozier was a great coach who was recognized in 2001 by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame for “lifetime service” to wrestling. I was an okay wrestler on a great team.  During my senior year we started a dual-meet win streak for our school (North Andover High School, North Andover, MA) that went on for six years and 106 team victories.  I had the good fortune to be named unsung hero for our team that year. I think it’s because I kind of quietly plugged along and would occasionally pull out a win when it wasn’t expected but was really needed to keep our win streak going. 

I just returned from the 2010 Conference and Exposition for the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI). AAMI’s mission is to increase the understanding and beneficial use of medical instrumentation through effective standards and educational programs, and publications. Its annual meeting is the premier conference for the biomedical and clinical engineers, and biomedical equipment technicians. These are the healthcare professionals who are responsible for maintaining and managing a hospital’s medical technology and can play a vital role in planning for new technologies. 

Biomedical and clinical engineering professionals often serve as the hospital’s unsung heroes. They don’t typically get the recognition of the hospital’s more prominent staff (i.e., doctors and nurses) but can have a big impact on its operations by keeping equipment running safely when it is needed the most.   

Medical technology is going through a tremendous transition as traditional medical devices like infusion pumps and patient monitors begin to use more and more computer technology. What was once a stand-alone pump on an IV pole or a stand-alone monitor on an ICU shelf is now part of a complex interconnected system integrated with hospital’s computer networks and information systems. With the older, stand-alone devices, a single point of failure could injure or possibly kill a single patient. With interconnected devices and systems, a single point of failure can impact many different patients and can have huge costs associated with it.

The planning and support of this newer integrated technology can be very complicated – and risky if it’s not done right.  It needs a dedicated technology leader who understands medical devices and systems inside and out – from a clinical, safety, technical, and cost point-of-view.  This is a perfect role for the clinical and biomedical engineering professional. However, it won’t work with an unsung hero mindset. 

Even though I was an important part of my wrestling team, I wasn’t a leader. That job went to several of our more talented, aggressive, and confident wrestlers. They were the “most valuable players” - the type who knew they would win before stepping onto the mat.  Hospitals’ technology leaders need to be the same way. They should be able to take charge at the outset of a technology project and direct an ego-laden team of healthcare professionals including physicians, nurses, administrators, IT professionals, risk managers, and purchasing managers.

If you are the lead biomedical or clinical engineering professional in your hospital, take a look at the role you provide with your technology planning and management efforts. Do you serve as an advisor who helps out when tricky issues or problems come up (i.e., an unsung hero)? Or are you a leader who sets direction—the one who everyone in your planning meetings turns to when it’s time to discuss next steps? If you are not in this latter, “most valuable player” category, consider ways to put yourself in position to be one. Network with your hospital’s executives, provide them with critical information on technology decision-making, and volunteer to lead or help lead projects. If you don’t, someone else will.

If you are a hospital executive, look at who is leading your technology projects. Do they have a deep understanding of the technical, clinical, safety, and cost issues surrounding those technologies? Do they have the ability to drive the adoption of technologies that are consistent with your hospital’s strategic plan? Can they manage the confusing minefield of vendor claims and the challenges of integrating multiple devices and systems? If not, look to your biomedical or clinical engineering department. They may be able meet your needs. If they can’t or won’tyou should consider finding someone else to serve this role. There are too many lives and dollars at stake.

The American College of Clinical Engineering does a nice job of describing this role on its Web site. ECRI Institute has a wide range of resources to help hospitals with their technology decision-making. They include our Health Devices, SELECTplus, and Technology Planning and Assessment programs. We’d be interested in hearing about the roles your hospital uses to manage its health technology in the blog comments section below. We’d also be happy to discuss how ECRI Institute can help your hospital more effectively manage its technology and turn your unsung technology heroes into most valuable players. Feel free to contact me at jkeller@ecri.org.

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