What is a “frenemy”? According to Dictionary.com: “person or group that is friendly toward another because the relationship brings benefits, but harbors feelings of resentment or rivalry.”.
Within healthcare organizations, there is a lot of history between the people who support the medical devices that touch patients and those who support the information systems used by clinicians. It has not always been positive and collaborative. In fact, there are such differences in the culture of each group that they don’t always get along. Maybe they are even “frenemies” in some organizations.
In your hospital, you may know the function as Biomedical Engineering, Biomed, Clinical Engineering or Health Technology Management, HTM as it is now called as part of elevating the profession within healthcare. Those in the field now refer to themselves as “HTMs.”.
AAMI, the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation, is a standards development organization and the professional society for HTMs. AAMI is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Its mission is to advance safety in healthcare technology.
Four years ago, I was the first CIO ever to be elected to the AAMI board when AAMI leaders recognized the trend towards HTM and IT convergence and integration. I have provided the IT perspective to the AAMI board as the HTM profession continues to evolve.
A second CIO was elected to the board this year: Pamela Arora, SVP and CIO, Children’s Health in Dallas. She will bring a valuable perspective given her extensive experience with cybersecurity and overseeing an HTM function that is integrated into the IT organization.
One of the panels at the recent AAMI annual conference was titled “HTM/IT Collaboration: Keys to Success.” HTM leaders who manage an advanced HTM program discussed their experience with successful HTM/IT collaboration.
During the Q&A and to a room of a few hundred HTMs, I introduced myself as a CIO and asked the panelists a question: What one thing do they want IT leaders to understand?
IT leaders need to hear these key themes from their responses:
- Common language – HTMs should not have to depend on knowing one person in IT that they can count on and trust.
- Urgency of HTM tickets – Responsiveness is key; the problem could involve a device depended on during surgery.
- Mutual support – HTM and IT need to have each other’s back.
- Roles and responsibilities – Clarify this for each group in IT that HTM interacts with; HTMs need to know who to talk to regarding specific issues.
- Education – Help all of IT to understand HTM and why it is critical. Provide cross training between HTM and IT for similar functions.
- Proactive communication – To avoid a disconnect between IT and the staff at the bedside, IT needs to understand the downstream impacts of their decisions and actions.
- And finally, collaboration – As one of the panelists said so well, we need open eyes and open hearts to make it work.
I have served as CIO in four different organizations in the past 17 years. While I was at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and again now as interim CIO at Stony Brook Medicine, HTM reports up to me. I’ll be the first to say we could do more to fully integrate HTM with IT, but we’re on the journey.
At Stony Brook Medicine, we still refer to the department as Biomedical Engineering, or BME. The department was moved under IT eight years ago. With the development of medical devices that can now be interfaced with our electronic health record, BME has become more important. Feeding data directly from a medical device into a person’s medical record has reduced medical errors, improved patient safety and increased caregiver efficiency. It has also led to further advances for our EMR and patient care.
HTM integration with IT makes sense in the long run and may take different forms. It can help to elevate HTM as hospital leadership recognizes the importance of HTM services for safe patient care. Integration opens more possibilities for the data integration and analytics potential with the electronic health record and other systems.
To my CIO and IT colleagues, let’s be sure to meet HTM more than halfway and be true collaborators. There is clearly a mutual benefit to our working together to serve our patients.