Two workers inspect medical scanning equipment

Best Practices for Managing HTM in a Pandemic

 

By George Hampton and Steven Miller

As hospitals begin to reopen for routine care and elective surgeries, can you say with certainty that your HTM program held its own against the intense onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic? Right now, chief operating officers are assessing how their hospitals – including their in-house or clinical engineering partners – responded to the unfolding pandemic and its demands on healthcare systems.

But any analysis is meaningless if you don’t have benchmarks that allow you to gauge your HTM performance in a crisis, or, in fact, at any moment.

The best response plan is developed before you need to act. In most cases, managing through a crisis is usually a short-term exercise, such as operating through power outages, wildfires and hurricanes. COVID-19 has been markedly different. Its breath and swiftness forced hospitals to confront an invisible danger in real time. An effective response to COVID-19 isn’t about turning on backup generators or moving patients from flooded hallways; COVID-19 is requiring us to protect people from its spread and find treatments that save lives.

Take time now to analyze how your HTM program stood up against the stress of COVID-19. Public health officials largely agree that a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic could happen, but no one can say with certainty when that might happen and what impact it could have.

The bottom line? You never want to be in a position of not providing care because your HTM program couldn’t keep the equipment running[Link to one-pager].

What We Learned from the COVID-19 Outbreak

TKA’s comprehensive approach ensures your hospital is positioned to respond to the next crisis from a position of strength. The COVD-19 pandemic has allowed us to identify best practices for managing through uncharted territory:

  1. Establish benchmarks for success. You need valid, reliable data on every piece of equipment before you can gauge if your program meets targeted performance levels. You need clear line of sight on the journey of each device after use in the clinical setting, to ensure safe retrieval of infected equipment, appropriate cleaning and equally safe delivery back to your units. Additionally, did you go into this pandemic with equipment that was at the end of its projected lifespan with parts already out of production? Comprehensive performance metrics will help you address these issues – and much more. Beyond adhering to regulatory requirements, these systems give providers confidence that they can rely on your HTM team to clean, repair and get medical devices back into service within a targeted window.
  1. Include HTM in decision making. HTM teams take care of the equipment that takes care of your patients. Give them a seat at your COVID post-mortem table, so you fully understand the role of biomeds in your daily operations. For example, COVID-19’s highly infectious nature required special attention to reduce spread risk and protect providers. As a trusted partner, your HTM team can bring unique expertise to recommend the safest solutions as things change in the moment. In our case, TKA’s directors were involved on the front end of the attack, attending daily morning briefings and helping to shape a coordinated response.
  1. Understand supply chain demands. This critical risk emerged immediately as COVID-19 began to spread. Hospitals needed extraordinary volumes of Personal Protective Equipment and ventilators – issues echoed from coast to coast. Not getting necessary supplies to providers is a common failure point for clinical engineering services. We live in a world where typically we can get anything overnight and even the same day. Because our teams bring an external industry focus, we recognized this early and quickly started sourcing ventilator kits; our proactive focus put us ahead. Additionally, some manufacturers restrict service on their devices to only their technicians, so be sure to understand those contracts. Several hospitals we partner with have missed regularly scheduled service appointments as those technicians were not traveling. Will that put your patients at risk or present a compliance concern?
  1. Push out proven protocols quickly to biomeds. TKA teams deployed across several Western states shared different insights and experiences with a disease we knew nothing about earlier this year. By nature, biomeds are problem solvers. Creating a continuous feedback cycle harnessed the growing expertise of all our people, helping us find the best ideas. We used social media platforms to deliver updated protocols to our team, helping us adopt emerging best practices. Weekly huddle sessions were also used to inform technicians of up-to-the-minute changes.
  1. Work safely. Healthcare providers and biomeds both face exposure in a respiratory-based pandemic and need similar PPE. Several hospital partners included our outsourced teams in ordering PPE supplies, reinforcing our value in keeping critical equipment ready and available at the toughest moments. Because of our experience with every piece of equipment and how it functions, our biomeds trained providers on proper use of specialty equipment, including rarely used CAPR masks. In our workshops, we even pushed benches 6 feet apart and implemented staggered shifts ensuring there would always be coverage.
  1. Be flexible as patient volumes escalate. Clinical engineering professionals, by and large, have an attitude that if there’s a wall or mountain in front of them, they’re going to find a way around it. In a non-pandemic circumstance, we act prudently to follow designated protocols to reduce liability risks. When patient and provider lives are on the line, we can’t stand on the sidelines. Biomeds have an intellectual bent, and it was rewarding to watch our people adapt quickly to an uncharted environment. Our biomeds used 3D printers for face shields and restored batteries on CAPR masks.

Finally, don’t forget to address the financial cost of your HTM program. In-house programs often are integrated with other budgets, such as Engineering/IT or decentralized with contracts in various clinical areas, making it hard to get a clear answer on what’s included in your HTM service. When complex equipment repairs or maintenance are needed, in-house teams often must call for expensive outsource service that might not have been factored into your upfront budget.

When you work with a partner, like TKA, we provide comprehensive accounting so you never are left guessing costs or questioning our value. We constantly innovate and bring industry best practices that keep your program at the ready – especially when your hospital is facing a crisis.

Do you know if your HTM team is following best practices? Download our one-page guide to help you identify areas of opportunity within your current program so that you can be better prepared for a future crisis.

 

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