Webinar: Healthcare technology managers can be healthcares heroes

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As America’s hospitals and healthcare systems face mounting threats to their long-term fiscal health, healthcare technology managers find themselves eyeing an unprecedented opportunity to help their respective C-suite leaders minimize the hurt and hasten the healing.  

Such was the organizing insight behind a May 23 webinar during which three presenters suggested ways to strengthen the healthcare technology management (HTM) profession so the profession can help strengthen healthcare. The event was organized by AAMI and ECRI Institute as part of the groups’ recognition of Healthcare Technology Management Week.

“Hospitals are trying to figure out how they can rejuvenate [decades-old] construction,” said Brian Poplin, president of clinical technology services for Philadelphia-based Aramark, who zeroed in on big-picture concerns in the C-suite. “They’re trying to understand the growth of community care. They’re adding physician practices. All of those things are putting financial pressures on hospitals. They’re really having to find new ways to reduce costs and increase efficiencies.”

Poplin explained that, in a time of such seismic shift, the opportunity for healthcare technology managers is to understand “how do we bucket the challenges that hospital executives are facing, and how do we understand what we can do to impact the challenges?”

Noting that healthcare represents some 17 percent of the U.S.’s gross domestic product, he pointed out that the overall industry has become a political lightening rod, with healthcare reform only the most conspicuous manifestation of the development.

“First and foremost, you’ve got to remember that hospitals—whether they’re for-profit or not-for-profit—are about providing quality care to their constituencies in their communities. And we’re a big part of that,” he said. In order to contribute efficiently and in a cost-effective manner, he added, healthcare technology managers must appreciate that this key segment of the economy is marked by “a lot of competing priorities, a lot of different organizations that are engaged in transactions with the healthcare community. Our healthcare CEOs are struggling with that, and they’re struggling with it mightily.”  

Poplin enumerated a number of high-visibility factors piling on the pressure—increasing transparency around care quality thanks to the Internet, tightening requirements for regulatory compliance and, of course, plummeting revenues.

“Based on what happens with some of the Supreme Court issues over the next 30 to 45 days, what we may see is an industry that’s going to have to survive on a significantly changing reimbursement model,” he said. “Virtually every CEO I talk to is forecasting that they’re going to have to figure out how to run their hospitals on a payment rate that is 10 percent less than what Medicare currently reimburses them. That’s a huge, huge shift.”

Poplin then recommended ways to align HTM functions with several C-suite priorities as identified in a 2011 survey of members of the American College of Healthcare Executives:

  • By centralizing management of vendors and service contracts, HTM can help the C-suite tackle financial challenges—executives’ No. 1 issue, according to the ACHE survey.
  • By ensuring hospital compliance with device recalls, accreditation surveys and other regulatory matters, HTM can assist the C-suite in addressing patient safety and quality (No. 3).
  • By coordinating technology assets to maximize utilization and throughput, HTM can help improve physician-hospital relations and patient satisfaction (Nos. 6 and 7).
  • By performing strategic capital-asset management for equipment acquisition and replacement, HTM can help hospitals step up their game on technology implementation (No. 8).
  • By supporting hospital staff with on-the-spot technical expertise, HTM can help address staffing shortages (No. 9).

The HTM profession has a chance to help healthcare leaders strengthen provider institutions “because we are in the hospital every day,” said Poplin, “and because we’re rooted in sharing the hospital’s mission to keep the devices there for what’s critically important: creating a great experience for saving the lives of our patients and creating a great healthcare system.”
 
Confident, assertive—and influential

James P. Keller, Jr., ECRI’s vice president for health technology evaluation and safety, laid out ways the HTM profession might transition “from unsung hero to MVP.”

“What do hospitals need from their healthcare technology? They need dedicated technology leaders who have a deep understanding of clinical, safety, technical, cost and strategic concerns,” said Keller. “That unsung-hero mindset that’s often thought about for healthcare technology managers, or clinical and biomedical engineers, is not a fit for that type of leadership.”

Keller said the most valuable players are the people who have “the confidence, the assertiveness, that take-charge mentality that can be applied across all levels of the organization.” That’s what it takes to drive healthcare technology in an appropriate and safe direction, he added. The healthcare technology manager needs to be the person “everyone looks to in a technology planning meeting when it’s time to discuss next steps. They turn their head and look to that individual and say, ‘What are we going to be doing next?’”

Keller also broached the subject of the discord over the changing of the name of the profession.

“I see the name healthcare technology management as an overarching description that includes the traditional roles of clinical and biomedical engineers, as well as BMETs; however, it expands the focus of our profession beyond just medical equipment maintenance,” said Keller by way of defending the change against its critics. “It covers the entire healthcare technology life cycle. It encompasses an understanding that service and maintenance are critical, but not the defining roles of the profession. The person who is leading the healthcare technology management charge within an institution is someone who is moving into, or should be at, the C-suite level. And I have often talked about the chief technology officer role as an example of that.”

Keller pointed to integration and interoperability as “a tremendous growth opportunity for our profession,” suggesting that healthcare technology managers bone up on IT and lead the processes by which information gets transferred from medical devices to the EMR.

Keller closed by quoting a section from a February Modern Healthcare Insights white paper, “The Path to Interoperability: Turning Awareness Into Action,” which reads, in part: “A strong clinical engineering presence is critical to successful interoperability.” He suggested that webinar attendees obtain a copy of the paper and present it to their C-suite members as a way to “raise the bar for our profession and to raise our profile.”

‘Thinking outside the basement’

Wrapping up the session, Alan Lipschultz, president of Healthcare Technology Consulting in Wilmington, Del., urged attendees to become familiar with issues related to CE-IT convergence and directed them to the CE-IT Community organized by AAMI, HIMSS and the American College of Clinical Engineering.

He also quoted a recent report commissioned by AAMI’s technology management council, “Positioning Healthcare Technology Management for the Future”: “The vision for the future of healthcare technology management that emerges from … interviews and online surveys might be summarized as ‘thinking outside the basement.’ In the future, the HTM profession needs to move beyond a narrow focus on medical device maintenance to a comprehensive range of activities that maximize the contribution of technology in patient care.”

Session moderator Patrick Bernat, AAMI’s director of healthcare technology management, said slides and other resources from the webinar would soon be posted at the association’s website.

Coincidentally, the subject of healthcare technology leadership figures prominently in the current edition of Healthcare Technology Management magazine.