The Top 5 Challenges Facing Biomedical & Clinical Engineers Today

Unsolved problems in biomedical engineering

Hospital biomedical engineers face a host of challenges on a daily basis. In addition to providing regular maintenance and equipment support, they are responsible for coordinating with equipment manufacturers when problems arise with equipment. With the average 300-bed hospital housing over $10 million in medical equipment, this can be a lofty responsibility. Below are the top five challenges faced by biomedical engineers, along with some strategies to overcome them.

Challenge #1: Coordinating service schedules for equipment

“A qualified individual such as a clinical or biomedical engineer or other qualified maintenance person must monitor, test, calibrate and maintain the equipment periodically in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations and Federal and State laws and regulations.”

– American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE)

Keeping track of the servicing requirements for every piece of capital equipment can be an overwhelming task, especially if a biomedical engineer is tasked with maintaining equipment across multiple facilities. This task is so challenging for a variety of reasons, including the following:

  • Manufacturers often differ widely in their servicing recommendations
  • Clinical staff are often reluctant to part with equipment when servicing is required
  • Some products require servicing and preventive maintenance more frequently than others

Challenge #2: Obtaining manufacturer support when problems arise

Equipment often seems to malfunction at the most inopportune times. While some biomedical engineers have the expertise to diagnose equipment problems and troubleshoot them on the spot, other engineers may lack the familiarity with key pieces of equipment. In these cases, engineers must contact the manufacturer for support. This process can prove to be a challenge, especially in the following situations:

  • The equipment has been manufactured in China or another country in a different time zone
  • Devices were produced by a manufacturer that is no longer in business
  • Manufacturers are unresponsive or slow to respond to urgent requests for technical support

Challenge #3: Locating parts to repair failing equipment

“High-tech devices often require expensive replacement parts. Due to the rugged environments of most developing countries, the devices fail frequently and access to replacement parts is often difficult and expensive. Lack of financial resources, manufacturing equipment, and capacity to fabricate parts is nonexistent.”

– Daniel R. Lustick and Muhammad H. Zaman

Securing replacement parts for failing equipment is a challenge that faces all biomedical engineers. However, poor access to replacement parts is especially difficult for engineers who work in hospitals outside the United States that house equipment that is decades old.

Challenge #4: Segregating accessories for different equipment makes and models

Life for biomedical engineers would be simplified if manufacturers were to design products that would allow the use of universal accessories. Unfortunately, many equipment manufacturers design products that will only accept proprietary accessories. As a result, hospital biomeds must maintain a segregated collection of accessories and parts for every style of monitor, anesthesia machine and table. Here are a few examples of this type of barrier:

  • Many infusion pumps will only accept tubing sets made by a specific manufacturer
  • Some monitors require dual lumen blood pressure cuffs while others can only accept single lumen cuffs
  • Some anesthesia machines are built with a selectatec mounting system for vaporizers while others are built with an auto exclusion style

Challenge #5: Convincing clinical staff and stakeholders that equipment should be replaced

“For hospitals, the question of whether it is cheaper in the long run to repair a device or replace it continues to be hard to answer, according to experts, though many facilities are trying to come up with standards.”

– Chuck Green, Healthcare Finance

Convincing stakeholders that capital equipment needs to be replaced is often not easy unless the cost to repair a piece of equipment greatly exceed the costs of replacing the equipment. In most cases, biomedical engineers must try to convince budget-conscious stakeholders that a piece of equipment is no longer safe, effective, or functional. In other instances, hospitals do not have the budget to replace equipment and biomedical engineers must shoulder the burden of sourcing parts that are nearly impossible to find.

How can healthcare systems address these challenges?

Responding to the demands faced by biomedical engineers requires careful analysis and planning on the part of hospital officials. Fortunately, the challenges outlined above are not insurmountable. By developing a clear strategy to procure and maintain equipment, hospitals can eliminate or minimize these challenges. Below are three strategies to help hospitals reduce the demands on hospital biomeds.

1) Streamline medical equipment and technology throughout the hospital system

“Ensuring the same equipment and technology is used throughout healthcare systems and and streamlining administrative tasks are strategies providers are employing to reduce variation and unnecessary care and satisfy new payment models.”

– Alex Kacik, Modern Healthcare 

Purchasing medical equipment manufactured by the same company is an effective way to address the first four challenges outlined above. Procuring equipment from a smaller group of key manufacturers makes it faster and easier for hospital biomeds to schedule service visits, secure replacement parts, and obtain technical support. With a smaller number of manufacturers to collaborate with, biomedical engineers are also able to establish solid relationships with technical support specialists affiliated with those manufacturers.

2) Seek the services of a professional refurbishing company

This strategy is especially helpful for hospital biomeds outside the United States who must repair and restore medical equipment that was manufactured years ago. For instance, biomeds in South America, Asia, and Africa are increasingly turning to companies that offer refurbished medical equipment to obtain parts and support that are desperately needed to maintain aging equipment. Refurbishing companies can also help biomedical engineers save money for hospitals by offering a trade-in allowance on used equipment that is no longer needed.

3) Enlist the support of an equipment maintenance partner

“Often, if (hospitals) have a really good equipment maintenance partner, they can get honest counsel to determine whether it’s feasible to keep something longer or their replacement options.”

– Peter Vincer, President of ESP Global

The best way to organize medical equipment is to seek the guidance of a professional medical equipment planning partner. An expert in the equipment planning industry can help you streamline your procurement and organize your purchases. They can also help you manage your equipment inventory, enabling hospital staff to focus on improving quality of care and utilization management.

The Bottom Line

The list of demands facing biomedical engineers is extensive. Maintaining medical equipment involves scheduling service visits, collaboration with manufacturers, securing hard-to-find replacement parts, and convincing decision-makers that equipment needs to be replaced. Fortunately, hospitals can minimize these demands by streamlining procurement and turning to industry experts to generate cost-effective equipment planning solutions. To learn more about strategies to optimize your hospital resources, contact the team of experts with Attainia. They will help you develop a customized approach to procurement that will minimize the challenges facing your biomedical engineers.

The Attainia Team
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The Attainia Team