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Emerging Healthcare Technology Management Challenges During COVID-19

Healthcare technology management expert repairing infusion pump

Healthcare technology management teams (HTM) have been front and center maintaining and repairing vital equipment for patient use during COVID-19. As the pandemic continues, the pressure is on across the country to keep up with highly variable, highly unpredictable swings in equipment service demands.

There are several unique factors that make it an uphill battle to keep pace with maintenance and repair demands as patient volumes ebb and flow due to the pandemic. This article shares information we have been hearing from clinical engineering teams across the country.

4 Trends that Continue to Impact Healthcare Technology Management Teams

For HTM teams, there are several unique factors that continue to impact how they support equipment maintenance and repair demands as patient volumes fluctuate:

  1. Equipment Inventories Remain Much Higher than Normal. Hospital inventories of movable medical equipment (infusion pumps, ventilators, etc.) have risen substantially over the last decade. Despite this, many hospitals rushed to acquire new and rented medical equipment at the outset of COVID-19 in order to support the anticipated spike in patient volumes. While the influx of equipment played a critical role in keeping up with the unprecedented demand in heavily impacted regions, biomedical teams now must account for how they will continue support an expanded inventory without increasing service costs or overburdening their staff.

What’s interesting is that few health systems are relinquishing any of their equipment (even in low-impact areas) given the continued uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and the upcoming, ‘traditional’ fall flu season. Instead, many health systems are turning their focus to how they can mobilize their expanded fleet of medical equipment moving forward – and they are expecting clinical engineering leaders to maintain service as cost-effectively as possible.

  1. More Equipment, More Backlogs. After the initial surge of COVID-19 cases, The Joint Commission recently announced the resumption of regular inspections. As COVID-19 has impacted the country regionally, healthcare technology management teams have needed to be flexible in shifting their attention to life-saving devices and other critical maintenance and repair tasks. This variable demand and highly reactive response pushed PMs to the back burner, leading many hospitals to report large PM backlogs on high-use devices like hospital beds.

In addition, OEMs have been challenged to support preventive maintenance on their equipment. Furloughs and layoffs left some OEMs short staffed, while travel and hospital access restrictions continue to severely limit their ability to do onsite repairs and warranty work – especially on higher-end imaging modalities. This means HTM teams will need to solve the additional challenge of getting caught up on PMs to ensure compliance and safety of devices without relying on the OEMs for support.

  1. Unpredictable, Inevitable Disruptions to HTM Staffing. The talent shortage in the HTM field has remained a top concern for several years now, with 7 in 10 senior healthcare leaders noting a shortage of available technical talent. The last few months greatly exacerbated this issue in many areas, as demand for biomedical services skyrocketed at the same time that some hospitals had to deal with shortages due to staff illness.

But it is the constant unpredictability of our current situation that’s proving to be the biggest challenge for clinical engineering leaders. Even with inflated inventories, healthcare technology management teams are the experts when it comes to planning for and scheduling the services needed on their equipment. In normal times, working through PM backlogs while patient census is low may be a possibility for in-house technicians. The bigger question now is: What happens when there’s a local spike in COVID-19 cases, leading to an influx of patients as well as equipment maintenance and repair? Can your in-house team handle the increased workload without major disruptions to clinicians and patients?

  1. Unprecedented Financial Pressures Coming: Unfortunately, COVID-19 has had a profound impact on patient volumes and elective surgical procedures at healthcare facilities across the country, resulting in an unprecedented financial impact. In fact, it’s estimated that the pandemic will cost the healthcare industry $323.1 billion in 2020, according to the American Hospital Association.

As a result, hospital executives are actively searching for the right path forward and embracing a “no cost savings too small” attitude in order to recover from the pandemic. HTM leaders are already being asked to uncover new opportunities that will generate meaningful cost-savings. For a department with a growing list of responsibilities, identifying those opportunities – while juggling the surges in COVID-19 and ensuring key medical equipment remains available for patient care – will prove to be a challenge.

How to Get Ahead: Tips to Cut Down Wasted Time and Money

When it comes down to it, healthcare technology management leaders are going to be put on the spot. In an already lean working environment, biomedical teams need to find ways to run more efficiently to address the unpredictability of patient volumes in the months ahead. And in order to improve hospital margins, it may require thinking bigger than just reducing overtime and improving tech productivity.

Contact us today and learn more about Agiliti clinical engineering services. Our biomedical technicians and imaging engineers are available nationwide to support your organization’s strategy to service vital medical equipment in the months ahead.

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