The Power of Training: Peer-to-Peer Training Programs Lead to Significant Cost Savings

Two hospitals — Sacred Heart in Pensacola, Fla., and St. Mary's of Michigan in Saginaw — are responsible for saving millions of dollars at their own facilities as well as a nationwide network of hospitals due to an innovative approach to training. Each hospital employs a unique peer-to-peer training program, born out of a desire to reduce reliance on original equipment manufacturer and service contracts. By creating powerful training programs, both organizations realized improved response time, uptime and utilization, which in turn earned significant cost savings and quality care.

Sacred Heart Hospital, Pensacola
The Sacred Heart clinical engineering team had long been interested in how they could make their laboratory equipment — traditionally difficult to repair, even for seasoned clinical engineers — more cost-effective. The team decided to create their own simulated laboratory on-site — the Gulf Coast Laboratory Institute — and developed a two-week, hands-on training program for clinical engineers and laboratory technicians at other hospital facilities. It was critical they do the training on-site in Pensacola because of the fragile nature of the equipment being repaired. An analyzer, for instance, cannot be shipped somewhere to be fixed and shipped back because calibration is so critical. The simulated environment at Sacred Heart allows clinical engineers from across the country to fly in, attend the hands-on training and then implement their new knowledge back home.

Recently, Sacred Heart's own experts saved the hospital tens of thousands of dollars in an automation de-install/install in the laboratory. Manufacturers asked for five weeks and more than $80,000 to complete the project, but Sacred Heart's in-house staff completed it in less than two weeks and at a fraction of the price.

In addition to the Gulf Coast Laboratory Institute, Sacred Heart also houses the Gulf Coast Microscope Training center, which has saved the hospital — and surrounding facilities — thousands of dollars through the instruction of maintaining and troubleshooting microscopes.

St. Mary's of Michigan, Saginaw
The St. Mary's of Michigan clinical engineering department first implemented a sterilizer support program, called the Great Lakes Sterilizer Support program, in which they teach fellow technicians how to repair sterilizers and related components like pumps and injectors. Technicians completing this course pass up to 70 percent in savings for labor and parts for this equipment. Part of the sterilizer support program is a resource-sharing process, which means the St. Mary's clinical engineers are notified when other technicians need help troubleshooting their sterilizers. The team also refurbishes sterilizer parts, in an effort to keep costs down. A rebuilt part, for example, saves approximately 70 percent per unit versus buying new.

Some St. Mary's service technicians travel across the country to provide help and training so hospitals can rely less on help from an outside vendor, which can be costly. One St. Mary’s clinical engineer illustrated his dedication by traveling from Michigan to a hospital in California during the week of Christmas to handle a repair that needed immediate attention. After 30 straight hours of work, the repair was done at a fraction of the cost that an outside vendor would have charged (typically $600/hr. for vendor overtime) — and the tech arrived home just before Christmas. The total cost savings for the trip was 85 percent.

Most recently, St. Mary's implemented an on-site training program at their facility where technicians come to St. Mary's to receive in-depth, hands-on sterilizer training in a classroom setting complete with sterilizer unit. To date, dozens of technicians have participated in the on-site training, which also includes information on part sourcing and how to work with OEMs on cost containment, if needed.
The St. Mary's team didn't stop with sterilizers, though they continue to expand their offerings there, including a preventative maintenance kit, which saves approximately 65 percent per kit versus purchasing through an OEM. They now do surgical microscope repairs and also centralized test equipment. They've also brought 70 percent of St. Mary's lab services in house.

Investing in training in-house staff to provide support versus relying on the OEM can significantly improve response time, reduce downtime and eliminate exorbitant costs by leveraging on-site expertise of individuals who are more familiar with the operations and needs of the hospital.

The biggest hurdle to training staff is finding the time and money to invest. As proven by these two organizations, the money saved on service contracts and long repair times more than justifies the investment in training onsite staff. It’s likely the clinical engineering staff already in place is adequately qualified and capable of carrying out the job; it’s just unlikely they’ve received training specific to the device. By increasing the skill level of staff onsite, the overall cost of service contracts and downtime are decreased significantly, saving thousands of dollars each year and improving the quality of care.

Dale Hockel is senior vice president of operations for TriMedx where he helps organizations achieve new levels of excellence in operational management, project management and customer service. He is an American College of Healthcare Executives Fellow and member as well as member of Association of Medical Instrumentation, International Association of Medical Equipment Remarketers and Services, and a board member of the TriMedx Foundation. Dale earned a B.A. in Management Science from Buena Vista University, an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University and FACHE from American College of Healthcare Executives.


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