Members of three healthcare technology trade and professional organizations that formed a coalition in February said in a recent survey that they feel their new Clinical Engineering-IT Alliance would do well if it develops and facilitates the sharing of best practices, keeps members informed about new standards and regulations and ensures that new technology "weaves into current technology without precluding connectivity in the future."
In February, the American College of Clinical Engineering, Plymouth Meeting, Pa.; Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation, or AAMI, Arlington, Va.; and Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, Chicago, formed the alliance.
Survey respondents also called for the sharing among the three groups of their business plans, goals and mission statements as well as expressing a desire to gather diverse groups to discuss information technology issues of mutual concern. Respondents also said that they'd like to see invited to join future alliance projects organizations such as the American Medical Informatics Association, the American Society for Healthcare Engineering, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and local biomedical societies.
Bob Stiefel is director of clinical engineering at the 647-bed University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore and represents AAMI on an alliance steering committee. Traditionally, Stiefel said, clinical engineers handled the front-end medical equipment and IT people handled the back-end information systems where data from those devices were stored. But more and more, Stiefel said, devices were being built with onboard computers and, so, "A few years ago, it really became obvious that we were growing closer and closer together in terms of technology and overlap in how the technologies were applied in hospitals. We did not have arrangements outside of our places of work to manage this overlap of technologies."
Stiefel said that it is a "very distinct possibility" the clinical engineering and IT disciplines will merge. "In some hospitals, they're actually trying that, moving the clinical engineering and the IT departments together, and where that's happened, the people there are very, very pleased."
What the 470 participants to the online survey, conducted in April, scored lowest among possible tasks for the new alliance was meddling in new certification initiatives or defining new professional roles, not surprising since each has their own certification programs in place.
A solid majority of respondents to the survey, more than 65%, work in hospitals, 12% work for device manufacturers, 8% came from academic institutions, 6% were with consulting firms and 9% came from other employers.
Dealing with specifics, survey respondents indicated that they thought the alliance could be helpful in providing guidance on the integration of systems and devices in multivendor environments, developing an IT infrastructure to adequately support medical technology, keeping them up-to-date on emerging technologies and how to implement them, installing and using wireless systems and Food and Drug Administration regulations.
Curiously, a number of respondents said they preferred to get information from the alliance in the form of more traditional educational tools, white papers and articles; and via some electronic information technologies, such as Web sites and virtual education conferences, but not on a listserv or podcast.
Steve Campbell, vice president of communications, marketing and healthcare technology management association for the AAMI, said in an e-mail that the next steps for the new group will be to divide up tasks outlined in the survey.
"The survey also identified a significant number of volunteers who want to work on specific IT projects, so we're now in the process of forming working groups that will advance these specific issues by possibly producing guidance documents, sharing best practices, holding educational seminars, etc.," Campbell said.
What do you think? Write us with your comments at [email protected]. Please include your name, title and hometown.