Clinical engineering: Jack-of-all-trades

Team maintains 50,000 medical devices, $400 million inventory
March 29, 2016

A factotum is an employee who performs a wide range of functions – a jack-of-all-trades who can be called upon in many situations.

While every employee at UCHealth may at times joke about “other duties as assigned,’’ the technicians who work in Clinical Engineering have a treasured skillset like no others in the health system. You could send them into an Ikea store, jumble the parts from a variety of boxes, and they could construct masterpieces.

A team from Clinical Engineering gathers for training on Alaris Pumps at UCHealth Metro Denver.

The team has a long list of responsibilities, including maintaining an inventory of an estimated 50,000 medical devices – everything from pumps to beds and wheelchairs to sophisticated machinery such as an MRI or CT scanners.

That inventory of devices represents about $400 million in investment by UCHealth, hardly chicken scratch.

“When you appreciate the variety of devices, it seems somewhat insurmountable to have a team that can maintain them all,’’ said Buddy Badeau, director of Information Technology/Clinical Engineering for UCHealth. “It’s pretty impressive.’’

The team, like many others at UCHealth, is showing how UCHealth is maturing as a system, as evidenced last month when a dozen biomedical equipment technicians gathered at University of Colorado Hospital to learn tricks of the trade for maintaining and repairing Alaris Pumps. Such training would not have occurred previously, in part because the system was operating different kinds of pumps across the Front Range.

Once UCHealth standardized its infusion pumps, CareFusion, which provides technical training on the pumps, could bring one of its teachers to Colorado to train a team, instead of sending numerous technicians to California for a week at a time. The training allowed employees to be home at night with their families and saved the costs of travel expenses to California.

Technicians receive three full days of training on the infusion pumps, which continuously or intermittently deliver fluids, medications, blood and blood products to patients. The techs trained on the “brain’’ of the pump, and on the large volume, PCA, syringe and end tidal carbon dioxide [which can be referred to as capnography] modules.
Thomas Lycett
“The training consisted of the theory of operation, how the devices connect to each other, repairs, and preventive maintenance, which is done on a yearly basis. We check and make sure that everything is done and operating properly. We learn about any tips, tricks and advice for working on the product. We have a year or two working on these devices now, and we’ve learned a few new tricks,’’ said Ryan Titus, operations manager for Clinical Engineering at Memorial Hospital.

Beginning April 12, Memorial will join other UCHealth hospitals in integrating the Alaris/Epic electronic health record. The system will use barcode scanning to deliver medication orders to the pump wirelessly. It will then update the medication record in the EHR automatically. This eliminates the need for manual entry, minimizing medication errors that can occur during that process.

Titus said one of the advantages of having technicians meet together for training is that they share lessons learned from past initiatives. As Memorial moves forward with the inter-operability phase April 12, technicians will benefit from the experience of their counterparts in metro Denver and northern Colorado.

“The feedback I’ve heard from the staff is that the training gave them more steps, new steps to follow, shortcuts – it’s given them a little more confidence,’’ Titus said.

UCHealth relies on vendors for about 35 percent of its maintenance services, said Dan Klausmeier, manager of vendor services in Clinical Engineering at Memorial.

Klausmeier said the health system has a strong working relationship with vendors, who provide routine maintenance, especially for highly sophisticated MRI and CT scanning systems.

Tin-depth training on Alaris Pumps
Clinical engineering staff receives in-depth training on Alaris pumps.

Leaders agree that bringing a vendor, CareFusion, to Colorado to provide hands-on training also serves as a way that UCHealth invests in its employees.

“I really do think that this kind of training is a big staff satisfier. Each training event for them is another tool in the toolbox. This is training they own for the rest of their careers,’’ Klausmeier said.

The opportunity to meet co-workers face to face – people whom they know only via email or the telephone – also helps in building better teamwork.

“I think, over time, we are starting to break down the barriers. The managers are starting to get to know each other. The techs finally got to meet their peers, and I think that was a big thing. Now, we can actually put a name with a face, and it makes it more comfortable to call if there are questions that need answers,’’ Titus said.

Badeau said that kind of communication and relationship-building will serve UCHealth well in the long run.

“I’ll know we are getting close to that ideal state when an associate biomed calls someone in another location and says:  ‘I just saw this, have you ever seen this before?’ and employees help each other sort it out,’’ Badeau said.

For a group that is responsible for nearly 50,000 pieces of equipment and close to a half-billion dollars of inventory, it helps to be able to phone a friend.

About the author

Erin Emery is editor of UCHealth Today, a hub for medical news, inspiring patient stories and tips for healthy living. Erin spent years as a reporter for The Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Springs Sun. She was part of a team of Denver Post reporters who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting.

Erin joined UCHealth in 2008, and she is awed by the strength of patients and their stories.