Considerations When Searching for Software Tools to Streamline Biomedical Engineering Services

Part 2 of a 3-part series 

Biomedical engineering services can use technology platforms to deliver highly efficient, effective medical device maintenance. However, evaluating the impact of any software platform requires clear goals, consistent processes, and measurable cost & performance metrics. This article explores key questions for rigorous vetting of technology that supports biomedical engineering, including: 

  • What are the most pressing biomedical engineering challenges that health systems can help solve with technology platforms? 
  • Which key functions and support services are top priorities to integrate with a new solution? 
  • What metrics should health systems monitor closely to accurately judge the true cost and impact of software? 

One of the most significant challenges to biomedical engineering services is being perceived as a costly break/fix function, which can create roadblocks to new investments in tools and technology. To transform your healthcare technology management (HTM) services into a strategic asset and financial lever for your health system, generating true savings across your organization and driving productivity & satisfaction for your teams. The question is, what tools and technologies are needed most, and for what purpose? 

Implementing technology or software to drive efficiencies is a fruitless effort and a heavy lift for any organization without a comprehensive solution design and strategy built on standards, defined processes, best practices, and leveraging the right partner. The investment can quickly balloon beyond subscription costs and licensing if a biomedical engineering program’s goals and needs are not well understood. 

When evaluating software and technology tools, most specifically CMMS solutions, for your medical equipment management program, it is essential to keep some key questions in mind to act as a compass for both strategy development and implementation planning: 

  • Do I have the centralized program, standards, and processes to implement this solution and fully leverage it? 
  • Will this solution help technicians focus on the work that matters most to them and the health system, or will it get in their way? What are our most important use cases and requirements? 
  • Beyond subscription fees, what is the total cost for implementing, configuring, maintaining, and enhancing the solution? 
  • Do I have access to the resources to support and integrate the solution into our enterprise to maximize the investment? 
  • What will the training plan include for both the initial deployment and then ongoing new hire and enhancement training? Will training be resourced internally or externally? 

Exploding Inventories and Program Complexities 

Technological innovations have driven remarkable advances in healthcare. The quantity and variety of medical devices that aid in diagnostics, therapies, and patient monitoring has exploded with an estimated 10–15 devices for every hospital bed in the US, for a total of 10–15 million devices nationwide. That’s not even considering non-acute sites of care which are quickly becoming an increasingly primary footprint for health systems. Care pathways have become increasingly dependent on these growing medical device inventories, with technical complexity, criticality, and the sheer number of devices making healthcare technology management services an essential part of the healthcare continuum. 

Growing device inventories are not the only challenge facing biomedical engineering services. The technicians who maintain these devices deal with many major shifts in modern health care. Biomedical technicians often service more care sites over a larger geographic area as health networks consolidate and expand outpatient services. Network connectivity of equipment is also becoming more common, with 65% of all medical devices predicted to be connected by 2025. Non-remediated vulnerabilities in network-enabled devices can increase the risk of data breaches and cyberattacks. This means that biomedical engineering teams must take an active role in cybersecurity in addition to mechanical maintenance. 

The major challenges that biomedical technicians face with all these industry shifts can be traced back to visibility. If a health system cannot effectively track maintenance needs and workflow, the resulting inefficiencies can become incredibly costly. For example, biomedical engineering faces an increased administrative burden in managing their workload without a standardized method for tracking inventory across sites. And as a health network expands, it can increase the time technicians spend traveling between care sites to conduct maintenance. 

A lack of visibility of medical devices also creates a major risk to regulatory compliance. The regulatory landscape is already complicated enough for any health system, demanding rigorous vigilance. Delays in crucial maintenance, extended downtimes, and those non-remediated software vulnerabilities all add to the risk of the fines, penalties, and lost revenue opportunities that can result from non-compliance. Beyond the initial impacts of service disruptions, damage to a health system’s reputation and good standing with regulatory bodies can also prove to be enduring consequences. Expansions and consolidations of health networks, especially those that cross state and local jurisdictions, can once again compound this complexity. Differing regulations and overseeing agencies make highly visible device management more essential. 

Despite new and unexpected challenges, the advances in medical device technology have still benefited health care tremendously. Likewise, technology can offer a path to tackle the resulting challenges for biomedical engineering services. The choices that health systems make in adopting software and platforms can make or break their efforts to support efficient, responsive device maintenance. 

Integrating biomedical engineering functions with comprehensive platforms 

Any platform should be part of a well-defined strategy for optimizing biomedical engineering services, as opposed to the identified solution being expected to solve the challenges of a program by itself. 

None of these challenges exist in a vacuum, and each challenge and task impacts and depends on the other. Software solutions should reflect this interconnectedness. In the case of bioengineering services, a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) serves as the foundation for managing workloads. Technicians typically use these platforms to track maintenance work orders throughout a medical device inventory. A CMMS that manages the storage, flow, and tracking of work orders alone would be considered a point solution, addressing one specific need. 

However, biomedical technicians need to monitor and actively manage a multitude of different information sources and functions beyond current work orders to operate efficiently. This includes ongoing device monitoring, urgent security or safety alerts, and supply chains. A point solution CMMS will not provide visibility into these areas, creating limits on how proactive biomedical engineering can be in their work. Health systems could try to adopt additional point solutions focused on these areas, but this strategy can present its own challenges. 

A lack of communication between platforms is one of the most common limitations of disjointed point solutions. In biomedical engineering, monitoring the performance of medical device inventories is crucial to anticipating maintenance needs. If device monitoring is conducted separately from the CMMS and the information is not automatically shared, acting on that data becomes more cumbersome. Instead, a CMMS platform that directly integrates device monitoring could use that information to identify maintenance needs in advance and intelligently generate work orders. Predictive workflows like these could even shorten turnaround times for maintenance and help to prevent unexpected device failures. 

Unanticipated maintenance needs and device failures are not the only needs that can benefit from the increased visibility with a comprehensive CMMS. Even routine maintenance can be streamlined with functionality that tracks not only current requests and work orders but also future needs. If preventative maintenance can be planned and scheduled into the CMMS, automatically generated work orders can drive proactive responses from biomedical engineering services. With reliable automation and less dependence on manual inputs, the visibility of preventative maintenance needs increases, and turnaround times can be reduced. By staying on top of these routine needs, biomedical engineering can help health systems maintain compliance in their device inventories. 

Technicians should be able to use their CMMS to maintain a total view of the health system’s maintenance needs. In addition to automating work order generation, biomedical engineering services should be able to access data on usage history, device location, FDA alerts, recalls, or cyber vulnerabilities in the CMMS. Having this data and remote device monitoring in one centralized location can empower biomedical engineering to take a more proactive stance in both maintaining devices and protecting patients. 

Measuring the true impact and cost of technology solutions 

Biomedical engineering teams don’t just want visibility of their day-to-day tasks. They also want to see the impact their work has at a hospital or health system. One of the many benefits of adopting software tools is the ability to track and report vital metrics. This abundance of data can provide an objective view of the effectiveness of any team or service. 

Once a new software platform is integrated, part of its true value will be reporting changes in productivity. For biomedical engineering services, one of the simplest ways to measure this is the turnaround time for work orders. However, with the right solution, the level of granularity increases greatly. Device uptime, the amount of time required to acquire parts, and even device utilization can be measured to make confident decisions for continually improving biomedical engineering services and optimizing device inventories. 

Of course, any health system—along with their clinical engineering services—should apply the same data-driven mindset to the cost software tools themselves. Fully understanding the true cost of a technology platform will establish a strong baseline for evaluating performance. Health systems must keep a close eye on the costs of implementing new software, such as any changes needed to the technology infrastructure of a health system’s facilities. Turnaround time and labor intensiveness are also valuable metrics for tracking the true cost of implementation. 

Beyond the initial adoption stage, health systems should also monitor ongoing costs. How much time does training require for new users? Do software patches and updates carry additional costs? Is the platform flexible to adapt and evolve with the health system’s needs, or will the vendor require expensive reconfigurations? Building a strategic, technology-driven biomedical engineering service demands a stronger partnership than a one-time software implementation. Software tools need to have the flexibility to scale with operations and adapt to handle industry shifts and innovations in medical device technology. 

Combining the right technology with the right strategy 

Like almost any tool, software platforms can have a variety of impacts depending on how they are used. If the features and functions of a CMMS are aligned with a health system’s major goals, biomedical engineering can shorten turnaround times and drive high utilization of medical devices. If a platform is adopted with a one-size-fits-all approach, vital processes can become confusing, slow, and stressful. Any platform should be part of a well-defined strategy for optimizing biomedical engineering, as opposed to being expected to fix a challenge all on its own. 

In addition to strong governance and processes, health system associates are also majorly impacted by any new software. One of the greatest challenges to biomedical engineering services is being perceived as a costly break/fix function. Contrarily, viewing the service as a strategic asset for a health system expands the potential to drive productivity and savings. This holds true both for the technicians as well as the technology and software tools that they use. 

Despite not having a major patient-facing role, biomedical technicians are driven by a desire to improve health care by solving challenges, ensuring patient safety, and optimizing device availability. When evaluating software tools for these technicians, decision-makers need to look beyond just the technology platforms they use. Health systems must seriously consider whether they have the necessary in-house programs to develop successful technicians and the support services to foster efficient biomedical engineering services.  

Read Part 1 of the series – 4 Strategies to recruit and retain clinical engineering technicians

Read Part 3 of the series – Integrating clinical engineering support services with an independent service organization

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