Why the Healthcare Tech Shortage Is an Opportunity
By Al Gresch
The healthcare industry is seeing a diminishing supply of healthcare techs.
In 2016, both DeVry University and Brown Mackie College shut down their biomedical programs. There were not enough students interested in the field.
There had been optimism about the increase in the number of women entering the field. In 2015, women represented 8% of the technicians working in the industry. In 2016, that figure jumped to 10%, and the increase was thought to be a positive trend. But in 2017, the number of women working as technicians dropped back to 8%. This downward trend isn’t good news for meeting the ever-increasing demand.
The 2017 salary survey conducted by 24/7 Magazine revealed some worrisome statistics. From 2016 to 2017, the mean age of radiology technicians rose from 50 to 52.4; for level three biomed techs, from 49 to 52; and overall, the age of healthcare technicians rose from 49 to 51.
While the level of satisfaction within the healthcare field is quite high, and the U.S. Department of Labor indicates that healthcare technology management is a growing industry, there are just not many new people joining the profession. There are several theories about the declining interest in the field. One theory describes a difference in the interests of younger workers.
One way to address the healthcare tech shortage is to do a better job of recruiting more students at the high school level. Based on the 2017 salary survey by 24x7 Magazine, there’s been an increase across all salary levels, especially the director positions. Depending on the geographic location, the director positions saw an increase in median salary ranging from 19% to 57%. But increased salaries aren’t sustainable. A better way to address the healthcare tech shortage is to become more efficient – doing more with the people that you already have.
In my former role in a healthcare environment, we had a very high level of data integrity, so we could rely on the numbers. As a result, we could review and optimize our planned maintenance processes. In the first year after that review, an additional investment of 135 hours of planned maintenance activities garnered a 1,500-hour decrease in corrective maintenance. Through extensive analysis and application of lean methodologies targeting reduction of administrative work (which technicians hate) over several years, we extended the number of device hours per technician per year to 1,550 – a 41% increase.
Traditionally, the healthcare industry hasn’t done a very good job of ensuring data integrity. In fact, data integrity is the cornerstone of any kind of improvement, including:
- establishing a data integrity policy that demands consistent and accurate documentation of all work performed
- conducting a data clean-up
- implementing data standardization to understand and report on what you have
In healthcare, most employees can access the database with no rules about data input. Often, the inventory may have 8-10 different iterations of a company name. One employee might enter a LIFEPAK 7-Defibrillator as LIFEPAK. Another employee, LIFEPACK. Then others with a dash or without a dash. The same problem exists for device categories and model numbers. When you’re generating reports to see what you have (unless you know what all those different iterations mean), you’ll have an incomplete and inaccurate report.
If you don’t turn off the faucet of garbage going into the database first, you’ll never have clean data. Before starting data clean-up, you must develop a data integrity policy. With data integrity you can ensure that everything means the same thing across your inventory.
Accruent Managed Services can help you with:
- data standardization
- master data management
- role-based security
- system-wide administration
- security policies and procedures
Security and system-wide administration are the building blocks to knowing what you have. First, ensuring everything means the same thing everywhere. Then, standardizing policies and procedures to confirm everyone’s doing the same thing everywhere. Your system should be built so that technician activities are coded and associated properly. For example, maintaining equipment, providing customer service, or participating in training. From there, you can determine the number of device hours per technician.
When you hire a technician, you’re paying the technician to fix equipment and help customers. So, every minute your technicians spend not doing one of those two things may not be a good use of time or money. Of course, technicians may need to attend meetings or training. But, if you can measure all technician activities, you can decide how technicians should spend their time. With this approach, you can re-assign non-technical work to ensure technicians are focused on the right things.
Think about how quickly you can accommodate the increasing demand just by making your staff more efficient, more effective, and subsequently more engaged. You can increase your efficiency, productivity, and equipment uptime by:
- developing policies, procedures, and checklists across your organization
- enabling process standardization, benchmarking and automation
- ensuring corrective and planned maintenance is completed in the most efficient and effective manner
But how would better tools and better processes attract talent? Whether just entering the field or relocating to find a new position, the increasing demand for healthcare techs means that applicants have choices. They can be more selective about where they work. Technicians are looking for an organization that streamlines the work and employs modern tools, including the use of mobile devices.
Technicians in the field – whether they’re 20 or 60 – like doing what you’re paying them to do: fix equipment. Any time spent doing other things are job dissatisfiers. If your organization focuses on automated tools and processes, then that’s the kind of organization these technicians want.
The technician of today (and of the future) wants a mobile device in hand and a higher level of automation. It’s engaging for the technicians (and efficient for your organization) if they can do what needs to be done administratively as they’re completing the work, including:
- work order requests assigned to them via a mobile device
- interactive checklists to complete the work
- real-time documentation for an increased level of data integrity
Then, you can take your efficiency to the next level by establishing key performance indicators (KPIs), reporting and publishing your performance against established KPIs for your staff and your customers, as well as tracking and monitoring response time, turnaround time, and uptime on major modalities.
For example, an accepted benchmark in the healthcare industry is cost-to-service ratio (the cost of maintaining an inventory or a specific device divided by the value of that inventory or device). It’s generally accepted that if your cost-to-service ratio is at or below 5%, then you’re doing a pretty good job.
The problem is that most organizations aren’t ensuring their inventory is 100% populated with either the acquisition or replacement costs of the equipment. If you’re missing one of the two components of a formula, you can’t complete the calculation. It’s a real problem that Accruent Managed Services can help you address.
Yes, the reduced availability of labor is a challenge. But this challenge can become an opportunity for you. Because you’re forced to do something that you might not have done. As a result, you can create a significant increase in value.
124x7 Magazine, HTM Salary Survey 2017: http://www.24x7mag.com/2017/11/htm-salary-survey-2017/
About the Author
Prior to joining Accruent, Alan was Vice President of Capital Technology Management at Alpha Source and held similar roles at TriMedx Healthcare Technology Management and Alexian Brothers Health System, where he led both Healthcare Technology Management and Capital Supply Chain functions. Much of Alan’s experience and reputation in the industry came from building and leading one of the nation’s premier Healthcare Technology Management programs at Aurora Health Care, a 15-hospital system headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Using his experience and success from past roles, Alan helps Accruent clients adopt industry best practices and streamline processes that have resulted in significant increases in productivity and cost savings. A recent Accruent customer engagement identified $5M in annual net dollar savings and over 4,000 in saved manhours that could be applied toward other opportunities. Alan has authored and contributed to numerous articles on Leadership and Clinical Engineering management, including Creating a Cradle-to-Grave Asset Management Program, the 2011 winner of BI&T Best Article of the Year. Alan has presented several keynote addresses at Healthcare Technology Management events, including 2017’s NCBA conference. Alan was Chair of AAMI’s Healthcare Technology Leadership Committee from 2010 to 2017 and still serves on the committee. He is an active member of BI&T’s Editorial Review Board, and is currently authoring a Healthcare Technology Management Manual for AAMI.