By Bill Axon
Every hospital should have exacting requirements about the individuals they trust to repair and maintain their medical equipment, which is essential for nearly every patient diagnostic and treatment today.
I guarantee that TKA has even higher expectations for our biomeds, as ongoing training is an important part of our mission in collaboration with our healthcare partners. And now, as the debate continues over who has the right to repair any medical device, training becomes an even more critical key to ensuring that every biomed has the appropriate level of knowledge and mastery (not to mention access to parts and materials) for general equipment.
The evolution of medical technology moves at lightning speed, and training is the primary avenue for keeping biomeds current on the equipment used in every corner of a healthcare system. This intense focus on right to repair moves training even more upstage, as we expect the Food and Drug Administration will begin to look at how our people do our business. After all, patient safety is the bottom line in the debate.
While our industry currently has no minimum certification requirements for biomeds, our TKA team augmented our commitment to robust training by earning our ISO9001 certification, a rare designation among independent service providers like us. This signals that our organization has developed and adheres to proven processes in how we operate to meet quality standards. On top of that comes the various general and specialty certifications our biomeds hold.
Start on the ground floor
Individuals can choose from several channels when preparing for an HTM career. Some will complete college classes, often earning a two-year associate degree. Others build their skills and knowledge through industry partners, including training and certification offered by the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation.
TKA augments those avenues in creative ways. For example, Jeremy Westkamper started in the facilities area of Providence St. Joseph Hospital Eureka in Northern California. We hired him to work as a biomed, and he built his job and management skills to the point that he now directs the team serving the hospital. He also has developed a phenomenal internship program that uses on-the-job training to give biomeds real-world experience under veteran guidance.
Personally, I started in the U.S. Navy, where I trained working with communications and navigation equipment for fighter jets and helicopters. In fact, nearly 40% of today’s biomeds took similar routes to our industry via the military, as we can transition that base knowledge into advanced preparation for clinical engineering.
Each year, we set aside a training budget for every site, a sacred financial pool dedicated to enhancing our biomeds’ skills. We also take a strategic approach to the training that they will complete, as we look at the health of a hospital’s entire inventory to determine service gaps and pending needs as equipment reaches end-of-support status. Training isn’t optional: It’s part of our biomeds’ job to stay at the top of their game. We keep comprehensive certification records for our biomeds, which – along with the base standard of equipment readiness – is a way to demonstrate the competency of our people when The Joint Commission conducts an accreditation audit or review.
We choose training programs wisely
As our people want to specialize their skills, such as working on more sophisticated imaging devices, we can turn to both training partners and OEMs. We are selective in the programs where we send our people, whether classes are offered virtually or on location. For example, we know that when our biomeds complete training by a former senior CT scan specialist for a leading OEM, they leave that program with a high level of skill and confidence. We further gauge the efficacy of each course or program we use by asking our technicians for feedback and performance documentation, such as uptime, on any equipment for which they received training.
Of course, the OEMs are reluctant to offer training and resources to prepare outside technicians on maintenance and routine upkeep on their latest-and-greatest models, often locking healthcare systems at initial purchase into service contracts for a few years to protect that intellectual property.
This is one area that working with a company such as TKA can ultimately save our partners money. Because we serve a regional network of hospitals, we can have a single imaging specialist who can rotate and handle needs at each of those facilities. Imaging is one of the more expensive training areas, with a single program costing upward of $25,000 – an exorbitant fee for many hospitals, which can ironically lead to the need for more spending over the long term for service contracts. We can absorb that cost across the network, while also providing dedicated, timely service that OEMs simply can’t replicate.
It’s a simple fact of our business: Training for the newest technology costs the most, and those classes likely are offered by the OEMs. As equipment ages and new models come along, other ISOs will begin to develop training, usually at a fraction of the initial cost. Indeed, a big chunk of our work is caring for that once cutting-edge equipment, which might be intended to have a life expectancy of eight years but is still chugging in the hospital some 12 or 15 years after its arrival. We fill a unique niche in preparing our teams to service older technology and systems. And for the newest equipment, we monitor when OEM service agreements will cease, working proactively to have our biomeds up and running to provide seamless service once upkeep and repair on those devices transitions to us.
If you train them, they will come
It’s not a big secret that we’re looking at looming shortages in the biomed field. About half of the current workforce is over age 50, so they’re starting to think about retirement.
Training becomes a way to take individuals with an interest in the fundamentals of our business – whether it’s about tinkering with machines to figure out how they work and to fix them when they don’t or having an affinity for electronics and flashy tech such as AI integrated into today’s medical devices – and developing them into HTM professionals. We can build on that passion and those basic skills by providing the unique training to nurture and develop the next generation of biomeds.
Take my former administrative assistant, Crystal Gomez. After watching what we do from the sidelines, she decided to jump into the action and pursued the college coursework and training to become a certified biomed. She started on the ground floor and has demonstrated an innate talent for what it takes to be a great biomed – both as part of the TKA team and for our hospital partners.
Training enhances HTM program performance
While giving our people the capabilities and resources they need for preventive and corrective maintenance remains a priority, we don’t shortchange preparing our teams on the soft skills needed to be a collaborative partner. For example, our mentorship teaches the next generation how to communicate effectively (perhaps one of the most important skills in the life-or-death scenario of healthcare), manage a budget and contribute essential insights for long-term investments in capital planning.
At the end of the day, we’re training our people to be at their best for our customer. Mind you, the hospital isn’t our customer; that’s our partner. Together, we’re working hand-in-hand to provide the best care for our patients and their families, who are our customers. We are the people who take care of the machines that providers use to take care of the patients. Reach out to find out more about the investments we make to prepare our people to be their best – today and for years to come.
Bill Axon is TKA’s Regional Director for Texas, as well as our director of national parts procurement.
At TKA, we do it better, make it easier, and deliver more to maximize your results and give you a competitive edge.
That’s the smarter way. Partner smart with TKA.