By Todd Singleton and Nick Allen
Hospitals rely on well-maintained, never-off technology to best serve patients, but facing the pressures of health care reform, a challenging economy, and reduced budgets, many hospitals can no longer afford around-the-clock OEM services.
Even as in-house biomedical engineers are tasked with increasing responsibility, remote services can support internal efforts with in-depth problem solving solutions, providing shorter down times and facilitating increased knowledge.
Doing more with fewer resources
The delivery of hardware, software and maintenance from outside of the hospital, remote services have been available for a number of years. However, historically many hospitals have eschewed phone and online portals for remote technical support, in part due to perceptions that working with OEMs remotely could lead to loss of ownership responsibilities. Yet remote services offer a balanced option, allowing in-house teams primary ownership of equipment, but with the assurance of immediately available, advanced resources as back-up.
Although budgets are decreasing, the number of medical devices used at the patient bedside is increasing. In a study, GE Healthcare found that between 1995 and 2010, hospitals’ clinical devices per bed increased by 62 percent. With so many more devices integral to patient care, biomeds are being asked to do more with fewer resources. But as service demands continue to rise, engineers cannot become experts in just one modality – their skills are needed to tend to many kinds of equipment. It is a constant struggle for hospitals to keep biomeds trained on the latest equipment to meet quality and compliance regulations.
For example, a hospital may own an MR, which the biomedical department is responsible for servicing. Although an MR is a complex medical device requiring specialized training, the hospital will still expect timely resolution of problems from the in-house staff so that patient care is not impacted. Remote services offerings through a shared services contract – an OEM contract that allows in-house biomedical departments more flexibility and cooperative partnership – empowers hospitals to maintain access to experts, but at a more affordable cost.
The cost associated with training is another reason remote services can be an attractive option. As budgets continue to tighten, training budgets are often among the first to get cut. With many hospitals unable to afford the luxury of routine training, remote services allow access to up-to-date information. A shared services agreement can also offer supplemental education alongside remote services, depending on the service provider.
One key reason hospitals are leveraging remote capabilities more frequently is because they need equipment fixed immediately to avoid interrupting patient care. Through remote services, problems can be quickly resolved, resulting in less system downtime during collaborative troubleshooting. If there is an issue that an in-house biomedical engineer can’t resolve on their own, the hospital no longer has to wait days for a contractor to physically assess the problem – the engineer can simply make a call or go online for immediate assistance. Oftentimes, due to the advanced nature of technology today, an online engineer can “dial in” directly to a piece of equipment and solve issues remotely. Even if the problem cannot be resolved remotely, the in-house department has access to the technical insights of the OEM engineers.
In fact, many veteran OEM field engineers work exactly this way, collaborating with remote support engineers before, during, and after a service event. Working with remote technical support teams usually leads to a quicker response and a better understanding of the problem even before on-site repairs begin. At GE Healthcare, we’ve found that collaborative efforts between remote and on-site teams result in getting equipment up and running 25 percent faster than working on it alone.
Evolving technology, evolving services
Technology is constantly evolving, and hospitals rely on extremely advanced equipment to best treat patients – it is crucial that biomedical departments have access to the most current information and expert problem-solving for that technology. No one biomedical engineer can specialize in every brand, every make and model, and every kind or equipment. A strong biomedical team, backed by a shared services agreement with remote support, empowers hospitals to receive the same benefits as a full-service OEM agreement and deliver timely responses to issues, provide great quality, and ensure maximum equipment uptime.
About the authors: Todd Singleton is market development leader for in-house services at GE Healthcare Services, and Nick Allen is director of service technology at GE Healthcare Services.