How to improve biomed technicians’ quality of life

TRIMEDX President of Clinical Engineering Rob Moorey recently contributed an article to Quality Digest about how health systems can improve quality of life for BMETs through efficient processes and technology. The full article, as it appeared Nov. 8, 2023, is below.

Growing medical equipment inventories and increasing technical complexity are demanding more than ever from the clinical engineering teams responsible for maintaining clinical assets. Simultaneously, a shrinking talent pool of biomedical equipment technicians (BMETs) could lead to large staffing shortages in the coming years.

The Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) surveyed more than 1,400 healthcare technology management (HTM) professionals in 2022 and found 60% of respondents were over the age of 45, and more than 6% of respondents were past retirement age. By 2032, there will be a need for more than 75,000 BMETs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. AAMI also found work-life balance and workplace environment are the top three retention priorities for HTM professionals. 

These findings highlight the urgent need for new medical equipment management strategies that empower technicians to enjoy successful, fulfilling careers. Innovative technology, strong governance practices, and knowledgeable support teams can optimize medical equipment performance while helping improve satisfaction, productivity, and mental health for the technicians on whom technology-driven health care depends.

Inventory visibility and quality data

A crucial step in improving the lives of BMETs is establishing a comprehensive inventory of a health system’s equipment. Many hospitals don’t have an accurate account of what equipment they own or where it’s located. This leaves BMETs scrambling to find devices and parts, creating frustration and taking them away from their core responsibilities.

A comprehensive clinical asset management system will eliminate this stressor and provide quality data for BMETs, such as where a device is located, how often a device is used, and when it will need to be serviced or replaced. Health systems with accurate data and analytics will be able to make better ordering and stocking decisions from trusted sources in advance, relieving the pressure on BMETs to source parts or equipment on their own.

Technical and regulatory support and resources

Technology is evolving and progressing quickly, with devices and equipment becoming increasingly complex and software driven. BMETs are now forced to keep up with that rapid pace of development, learning new systems and processes all the time. Without a dedicated support team, BMETs can struggle to stay up to date. This puts BMETs, already juggling increased workloads, in a difficult position. If BMETs are not aware of the latest troubleshooting technique or changes in the newest model, they may struggle to solve issues when they arise, potentially jeopardizing patient care and increasing equipment downtime and lost revenue. This burden can lead to BMET anxiety and burnout.

The regulatory landscape has also evolved significantly, with frequent changes over the past several years. BMETs are often expected to educate themselves through conferences, industry publications, and OEM resources—but that puts intense responsibility on an individual who likely does not have regulatory or legislative expertise.

One of the most effective ways to create a better working environment for BMETs is to provide them with expert support and the latest resources to stay informed. Health systems should have a dedicated quality and regulatory team. This team of experts ensures health systems are in compliance and provide BMETs with necessary training.

Access to technical support teams who can address specific needs in real time is also extremely helpful for BMETs. If technicians run into a particularly challenging problem, having an expert team that can assess the problem and walk them through a solution is much more efficient than leaving BMETs to try and figure it out on their own.

Easy access to device manuals and equipment guides can save technicians valuable time and decrease frustration as well. A technician needs to be able to quickly look up the appropriate manual without having to search for a physical copy. Compiling all the relevant and updated manuals in an online database is one way to make technicians’ jobs easier.

Specialized cybersecurity teams

As more medical devices become connected to the internet, cybersecurity is yet another factor BMETs must consider while doing their jobs. In addition to traditional responsibilities, they now are key players in ensuring medical devices do not provide bad actors with an entry point into a hospital’s network. According to 24 x 7’s 2022 compensation and job satisfaction survey, cybersecurity is the top issue that keeps HTM professionals up at night. The same survey found more than half of respondents said their workload is already “heavy” or “excessive.”

Health systems should work with a trusted cybersecurity partner who is constantly analyzing threats, monitoring devices, and taking a proactive approach to guard against cyberattacks. While BMETs should still work closely with IT teams to share expertise and help prevent intrusions, having an expert team focused on cyberthreats will be much more effective and provide BMETs with a sense of relief.

Predictive systems

Unexpected equipment breakdowns can lead to patient safety issues, significant equipment downtime, lost revenue, and unhappy clinicians and patients. These unforeseen breakdowns can also be a major source of stress, frustration, and dissatisfaction for BMETs. If a piece of equipment fails, a BMET may have to rush into the health system during off hours or postpone other responsibilities to address the urgent need. The BMET will also be under pressure to solve the problem quickly to get patient care back on track. If a new part for the equipment must be ordered, it could take days to arrive—leading to a longer period of equipment downtime and upended patient scheduling. 

To help avoid these stressful situations, a health system can leverage technology and expertise to predict equipment failures. A predictive work system can combine remote device monitoring, service expertise, and data science to identify and proactively respond to common preventable equipment problems before a failure occurs.

For example, a predictive work system can analyze conditions that indicate air bubbles are developing within a CT machine—even when the machine appears to be functioning normally. Air bubbles in CT machines are a well-known but hard-to-predict problem that can lead to serious issues. Once the predictive work system detects a problem, it can send a work order to the BMET with prescriptive repair actions, relevant parts, and service manual information. The BMET can then alert the clinicians and quickly make the repair during a break between patients or another convenient time before the CT machine becomes unusable. This can avoid days of unplanned downtime and prevent serious damage to the machines. If a health system invests in this type of technology for its MRIs, CT machines, cath labs, and other equipment, it will improve patient experience and safety, increase BMET satisfaction, and prevent revenue loss in the long run.

Automated test equipment

Another way to make BMETs’ jobs more efficient and less time-consuming is through automated testing equipment. Health systems should take advantage of technology that is transforming the way technicians can test and inspect equipment. For decades, BMETs have had to run a test, record the results manually, visually compare results to acceptable limits, and physically input the results into a work order system. This traditional method is time-consuming, with many opportunities for human error. 

Now, technicians can run tests via mobile apps. There is no need to write down or document the results, because they’re automatically fed into the system. With the potential to automate the process, this could eliminate human error, reduce documentation time, and validate that test results are within permissible limits. Hospitals should partner with a vendor that offers this type of automated system to save significant time and ensure data accuracy, giving technicians peace of mind that they didn’t misread or miswrite a number, forget a test, or enter a piece of data incorrectly.

BMETs, like any other professionals, want to take pride in their workplace and their career. Providing BMETs with stability, support, resources, and growth opportunities will help them perform their jobs well while maintaining a healthy work-life balance and quality of life. This will not only benefit the individual technicians, but health systems and the broader HTM industry.