Local Equipment Service and Telemedicine Services
By NICK GAFFEY
Just as a firefighter enters the flames of a burning building, healthcare workers and the support staff who work in healthcare found themselves marching into medical facilities when the flames were their hottest during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not unlike everyone else working tirelessly in healthcare these past 15 months, workers in the healthcare technology management (HTM) sector such as imaging engineers, biomedical equipment technicians (BMETs), and clinical engineering teams were on the front lines of COVID-19 patient care. They played a critical, and no doubt unsung, role as they worked to keep respirators, diagnostic imaging systems, and other items critical to COVID-19 patient care up and running.
During the height of the pandemic, I was tasked with running the service department of a fluoroscopic X-ray OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) making sure our installations across the United States and Europe stayed up and running. As a result of the critical nature of the cases performed using our systems, my team of imaging engineers continued to work and travel constantly throughout the pandemic facing challenges and adapting to new challenges. In my current role with OMI MedTech, a central Florida-based company that specializes in local medical equipment service and video integration solutions, we are adapting to a shift in how we do business.
Based on my experience in the HTM sector, I believe there are specific areas where we have seen and will continue to see a shift as we adapt to the challenges of the current pandemic.
A shift away from dispatch-based healthcare technology management to a more localized support for medical equipment.
Many equipment manufacturers do not have the resources to have trained service personnel throughout their coverage area and must use a remote dispatch model, meaning their service team is dispatched from a central location. Air travel throughout the country was disrupted and restricted to control the spread of the virus making it difficult, if not impossible, for HTM personal to travel across state lines to service much needed equipment.
According to a story on cntraveler.com Corona Virus Air Travel: These numbers show the massive impact of the pandemic, by Mark Ellwood, “on April 7, (2021) the total amount of U.S. fliers screened by the TSA fell below 100,000 for the first time in the agency’s history. That’s a 95 percent drop compared to the passenger numbers from the same day in 2019, when 2,091,056 people passed through the checkpoints. Experts say the majority of those screened were airline crew members or healthcare workers heading to COVID-19 hot spots.” This lack of flight traffic was in addition to restrictions put into place by individual states requiring mandatory quarantine periods on arrival. These restrictions and lack of flights were taking place when access to lifesaving equipment such as bypass machines, diagnostic imaging, respirators, and other items critical to COVID-19 patient recovery was more crucial than ever.
Most large hospitals employ in-house biomed and clinical engineering departments, however, smaller surgery centers and outpatient facilities should be utilizing a local independent service organization (ISO) to maintain equipment and ensure its proper maintenance. An ISO will inventory equipment and perform FDA mandated electrical safety inspections, planned maintenance (PM), calibrations and will be ready to react for unscheduled repairs to keep medical equipment operating safely and much needed procedure rooms up and running. This is important during normal times and became a matter of life and death when keeping respirators up and running helped save lives. This is where a medical equipment service organization’s certified biomed technicians can be utilized by local facilities to ensure proper maintenance of their equipment is up to date.
Virtual and streaming solutions are replacing in-person activities when telemedicine makes sense
Virtual health became a game-changer as we saw advances in the reach and speed of service delivery and an immediate freeze on all non-essential face-to-face interaction. As we move forward on current projects building new healthcare facilities and renovating existing spaces, an emphasis on outfitting rooms with cameras and streaming technology has been at the forefront of design. More than ever, video integration providers are being asked to provide options for streaming capabilities. Providers are requesting surgery suites be equipped with streaming options so doctors can collaborate with colleagues and clinical sales reps without putting themselves, patients, or staff at additional risk.
The breakthrough emergence of these technologies in operating rooms during the last 15 months has resulted in increased interest in these tools, even as we get back to the new normal. This new approach is not limited to clinical staff. Medical device sales reps, who are a crucial part of the healthcare system, have improved remote and virtual capabilities and companies who have adapted, have been able to increase visibility and become more efficient during this difficult time.
Technology has made virtual health possible. Providers, payers and consumers have all benefited from the accelerated adoption of telehealth tools due to decreased restrictions during the pandemic. As we shift into a value-based healthcare model, telehealth will continue to evolve and help providers view the patient throughout the continuum of care. In this way we can improve efficiency for better patient outcomes.
As more individuals receive vaccines, we transition toward herd immunity with the hope that the worst is behind us, realizing healthcare will be forever changed. As we move into the new normal, the need for locally-based resources to maintain and service lifesaving equipment over OEMs will become more prevalent. Facility managers will have to decide if staying with an out-of-town OEM is worth the extra cost and possible disruption of service in an emergency. With the increased arrival of telemedicine technology, the ability to improve patient outcomes, and increase the efficiency of providers comes the debate over how much face-to-face contact is important. As we move forward, the advantages and disadvantages of in-person interaction with healthcare providers as opposed to virtual communication will have to be carefully weighed by the patient and provider.
Nick Gaffey is CEO of OMI MedTech, LLC., a medical equipment service and technology company. Before being named CEO of OMI MedTech, Nick worked in the medical industry as a medical group practice administrator, OR video integration specialist, capital equipment sales rep, and service director of a capital equipment OEM. You can find out information about Nick’s company by visiting https://www.omimedtech.com. If you are interested in reaching out to Nick regarding this article or any other relevant healthcare topics, please contact him at Nick.Gaffey@OMIMedTech.com.