Q&A: Goodbye clinical engineers, hello healthcare technology managers?

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It’sofficial. The hospital profession formerly known as clinical engineering or biomedical engineering will, over time, come to be known as healthcare technology management.

At least, this will be so if an influential cadre comprising some of the profession’s leading lights succeeds in promoting their vision for the profession’s future. The group of 30, whose two-day April assembly was facilitated by the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) and dubbed the “Future Forum,” announced their consensus on the Sept. 28 renaming in an AAMI statement.

The group made the decision after reviewing feedback solicited from more than 200 medical equipment service professionals during a 90-day comment period.

Healthcare Technology Management (HTM) contacted AAMI for further comment and was put in touch with Future Forum participant Dustin Telford, CBET, a clinical engineering equipment technician at Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare, who also serves as director of clinical engineering at EarthMed, a nonprofit medical outreach also based in Salt Lake City.

HTM: AAMI is assuring people that job titles will not change, just the “umbrella” term identifying the field they work in. But how much staying power will the change have if it doesn’t lead to changes in any job titles?

Telford: It’s one thing to say that we have a name for the profession, and another to say we’re just going to call everyone a healthcare technology manager, or healthcare technology management director, or healthcare technology management technician or some derivative. That was not the intent behind naming the profession. However, we have general consensus, at least within the forum—and I think within the community—that we eventually need to adopt titles that will be more commonly used across the board.

Looking at my own titles, I am a clinical engineering equipment technician here, but in my last job I was a biomedical equipment technician. So we hope, as a group, that someday the titles will be more [consistent]? Yes, absolutely. And I would personally endorse that 100 percent.

I see a lot of value in being able to recruit people into the field or to call maybe another hospital that I don’t know anything about and ask to speak with the healthcare technology management department and then, once connected to the department, say, I’d like to talk to a biomed, for example. I’m not saying that should be the term, but what should we call called biomeds who perform the technical service on equipment? The first step is to define the profession under a professional name.

In the future, the industry needs to take up the gauntlet of defining what we call ourselves at the various levels of specialization—and that’s probably a better way to put it than various levels of seniority or leadership or management.

HTM: AAMI says that a common concern raised by many who submitted comments—particularly technicians—was that the name “doesn’t reflect what we do.” How large a segment of the response group do you think holds this point of view?
Telford: The individual quoted there represents a segment of technicians—like myself, for example. Not that I agree with that particular statement, that the name doesn’t reflect what we do, but it does reflect a segment. Whether or not it’s a large segment, I’m not sure. During the 90-day open comment window, we received a variety of responses. Some were very, very positive and then others felt the new name doesn’t reflect what we do. I think that’s more of an opinion based on individual circumstances and maybe how different facilities operate their departments rather than representative of the entire industry.

My take on this is that it reflects the tip of the iceberg. I think there are quite a few people who would probably say the same thing.

HTM: Things are moving forward and you’re going to need this group’s buy-in. How will you secure it?
Telford: From what I’ve heard, not only through the Future Forum process but also, for example, at association meetings, people have a sticking point with the management part of it. It’s a little less sticky with healthcare technology. Where that part gets sticky is where people say it sounds too similar to information technology. But the management componenet is a matter of a definition. As a technician, I manage what I do and I manage the equipment that I service. I manage the parts or the contract. I manage the life of that equipment. But some people see management as ‘those other guys in the room.’

That may be a problem. And it clearly is a problem with the name that we would like to move forward with. We need to clearly define that management does not mean leadership and it doesn’t mean a title as a manager or supervisor or director; it means what we do to ensure the lifecycle of the equipment, the effective use of the equipment. It might mean how we lead in projects or the acquisition of new equipment and technology in the healthcare environment. But management is a broader term than I think some people initially see.

So, how do we get buy-in? At the Future Forum, one of the things we discussed at length was defining what management means. And, as a clinical engineering equipment technician, neither the group nor I believe that it’s a single approach that needs to take place to have people give their buy-in. But one way that we believe people will buy in, at least to the process, is to give them the opportunity to comment and to seriously evaluate how those comments reflected in our moving forward. And based on the comments that came through, we felt that it was still worthwhile to move forward with the name that was proposed last spring, as opposed to changing something in the name.

A good example [of the need for consistency] is that a number of people said the name should be biomedical something and a number said the name should be clinical something. Those comments were often stated quite strongly, as if it were obvious which of those it should be and as if there was no other option. We took this as a good indicator that we were on the right track in trying to define a name for our profession.

HTM: Did the group feel satisfied that word was spread widely enough that a critical mass of medical equipment service people heard about the initiative and the open comment period?
Telford: The open comment period was announced through various avenues—AAMI press releases that led to articles and blog posts, [local, regional and national] associations, talks, online forums and so on. We tried to reach very far and very deep.

HTM: At the Future Forum, did some people take more of a lead role than others?
Telford: We were all on an equal level. One of the very first things we did was go around the room introducing ourselves. And the introductions varied. Some people went into great detail about how long they had worked in the field, what their degrees were and so on. It came to me and I said, ‘Honestly, I’m honored to be here even though I don’t know why I’m here.’ I’m in a room with people who have this credential or that qualification. I know some of the reasons why I might have been asked to the table. I’m an advocate in the field, or perceived as such by some. I’m active in the field. But in other regards I feel very privileged to be one of those people who really represents the biomed technician.

So when people suggest that it’s just for managers, I can respond 'It’s not; I was in that room!’

The direction and the steering of how that meeting ran can be attributed to the consultants who came in from outside the industry. They had done some surveys and research before coming in, and also been involved in other processes like this with HR people, for example. They were the ones who kept us on track and kept the discussion going. And really it went from where are we today and where do we want to be before we ever got into [the naming].

Mary Logan, the president of AAMI, came into the meeting at the start. She thanked us all for being there because AAMI facilitated the meeting but wasn’t trying to push one way or another. She said, ‘This is your meeting. We helped you guys get together, and now we are going to step back and let you guys discuss it.’ She made it clear this was not an AAMI dictate, and that meant a lot to the diverse group of people present.

Some people are very actively involved with AAMI. Some people are anti-AAMI, or were [opposed to the association] in previous years before changes in leadership. Mary was very candid that this was not an AAMI initiative, which was important for those who have their differences with AAMI and would not have participated if they thought the forum was an AAMI initiative.

HTM: Do you actually hope that hospital departments will be renamed?

Telford: I absolutely hope that it will happen, and I expect that it will happen more readily in some areas than others. In Utah, we have large hospital chains and we have small hospitals in the middle of nowhere. We have a fairly good and active biomedical association where we can communicate to a lot of people that this is going on, but we probably can’t reach everyone. It'll take a little longer to impact the rural healthcare environments,

My hope is that we will change the names of the departments because, quite frankly, I’d like there to be less confusion when the nurses call for support. If they call the healthcare technology management department, they know pretty much what they’re going to get as opposed to, for example, we’re clinical engineering in our hospital and we get calls occasionally that are clearly meant for the facilities engineering department. So this will define things a little better.

Do I expect it? I absolutely do, but it’s going to take a little while.