The Intersection of Technology and Healthcare Delivery
Clinical engineers have the expertise to facilitate a systems approach to health, where technological tools are needed to measure health system inputs and outputs. Tools for monitoring and reporting clinical parameters and laboratory results enhance the identification of early trends in large populations and can support better health and wellness.
The use of health technologies must be strategically guided, with coordination of local, national, and international resources, optimal resource management, policies that guide technology-related outcomes, and plans for life cycle stages. To that end, a healthcare model is needed that integrates the delivery of care to improve both care outcomes and patient experience. Such integration requires adequate knowledge of the technology life cycle, from innovation to application; academic programs that keep up with changes to point-of-care technologies; and participation in technological innovations such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and implantables.
Clinical engineers have a foundational role in this integration, with their unique knowledge related to the management of health technology systems and validation at the point of care. In coordination with clinicians and other stakeholders, CEs are demonstrating the benefits of their inclusion as equal members of the healthcare delivery team, particularly during the global pandemic, at both the point of care and population health levels.
As the sales of global medical products are predicted to reach $658 billion by 2028, it is clear that, for optimal return on investment and sustainability, the implementation of such products should be managed and supported by trained professionals such as clinical engineers.
During the first 2 years of the covid-19 pandemic, WHO’s World Health Assembly focused on the need for intensive care ventilators (2020) and medical oxygen (2021). WHO has specifically recognized clinical engineers for optimally managing assets such as medical devices, personal protective equipment, oxygen, and digital health tools, particularly in low-resource settings.
Two CE organizations, the International Federation of Medical and Biological Engineering Chemical Engineering Division (IFMBE CED) and the Global Clinical Engineering Alliance (GCEA), grew tremendously during the pandemic with a surge in the need for their members’ expertise. In partnership with WHO, these organizations are now connected to colleagues in nearly 200 countries, sharing best practices and solutions to complex challenges.
The next step is to build the right systems capabilities for improving global healthcare delivery.
A Call for Action
For clinical engineering to transition from localized point of care to population health, certain systems competencies must be in place:
- Education of the workforce to create greater collaboration and resiliency. Collaborative interdisciplinary educational training will ensure the systems skills needed to maximize the benefits of health technologies. With demonstrated competencies and internationally coordinated professional credentialing, CEs will be prepared to be equal partners with the other members of a healthcare team, participating in new clinical roles and workflows to free physicians and nurses for direct patient care.
- National health technology policy to address priority national challenges. Pandemic-related impacts necessitated rapid implementation of national health technology policy in many countries. This and experiences with other disasters (e.g., floods, wildfires, earthquakes, power outages) clearly show the need for international coordination of new national guidelines to sustain access to, availability of, and the transfer of critical healthcare technology tools. Clinical engineers can play an important role in informing and implementing such policy.
- National and international alliances and partnerships to share expertise and lessons learned. Such alliances will coordinate meetings of healthcare stakeholders (e.g., clinicians, administrators, and ministry of health personnel with clinical engineers) to examine areas of concern where CEs can make a difference. For example, the Global Clinical Engineering Alliance has offered webinars, a virtual international congress, and a global CE summit to identify and rank common global challenges. Such alliances can help those in the health sector, industry, academia, and NGOs drive cost-effective and high-quality innovations in healthcare delivery, and manage the performance of the technology used at both point of care and in regional and global populations.
As healthcare delivery systems around the world increasingly depend on technology for access to the best care, the expertise of clinical engineers in the use and management of this technology is critical for achieving best outcomes. For both point-of-care and population health, a systems approach can improve the delivery of health services through education, workforce collaboration, policy development, and partnerships. Clinical engineers are indispensable partners in achieving this mission. Just as Fiza was driven to overcome challenges, the approach described here shows a pathway to achieve the outcomes we all need.