How a shortage of biomedical technicians could affect hospitals

A looming shortage of biomedical technicians and engineers, plus the closure of their programs, spells concern for the profession, according to the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation.

Though they are not patient-facing, biomedical technicians and engineers are directly linked to patient safety. Their role fixing equipment ranging from ultrasounds to CT and MRI equipment affects patients daily.

The profession has many aging out of work and into retirement, but that issue is compounded by the fact that only around 60 biomedical technology programs are left across the U.S. Throughout the last several years, 25 programs have shut down, leaving 17 states without any such program at all, Danielle McGeary, vice president of healthcare technology management for the AAMI, told ABC News affiliate WPBN.

"As baby boomers continue to move towards retirement, we will begin to see an even greater talent shortage in healthcare technology management," Jeremy Probst, president and CEO of Technical Prospects, a Siemens imaging replacement parts provider, told 24x7 Magazine in 2018. "This means that those engineers who are on staff need to be a 'jack-of-all-trades' able to service a wide range of equipment. In addition, imaging equipment continues to grow more complex and difficult to service. Given the current situation, proper training for medical imaging engineers will become even more important." 

The field is one that has struggled to attract younger talent in recent years, prompting some of the closures, and as such hospitals may face a skills gap as seasoned biomedical technicians retire, a report from medical equipment manufacturer Elite Biomedical Solutions explains. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects openings in the field to grow by 10 percent by 2031, but notes, "Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire."

Joe Deater, an adjunct professor for the biomedical engineering technologies program at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, Mich., told WPBN he worries that lack of knowledge of the profession is one reason it is not attracting as much new talent. 

"There's a lack of knowledge that we even exist," WPBN quoted him saying. He also told the outlet that college-age adults are generally under pressure to get four-year degrees, but says that isn't really necessary to go into the field. 

Elite Biomedical Solutions cites four key ways hospitals can aim to curb the shortage of biomedical technicians in the meantime:

  1. Train existing staff for the skill sets where there may be a gap via professional development and certification programs.

  2. Outsource repairs that need complex knowledge and ensure workflows are optimized so that those who are experienced are as available as possible to service equipment.

  3. Keep track of the time biomedical technicians spend on "maintenance, customer service, staff training, administration, and inventory management" to gain further insight into what is needed to keep things running efficiently.

  4. Prioritize planned maintenance.

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