The Impending Biomed Tech Shortage: How Will It Impact Hospitals?
Hospitals and health systems nationwide feel pressured to expand biomedical asset fleets.
Lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, technology advances, healthcare innovation, and projected increase in patient volumes, the prevalence of chronic disease, higher average lifespans, and the aging U.S. population make medical devices more vital to quality hospital care than ever.
At the same time, hospitals across the country now face the same problem: there soon won’t be enough skilled biomedical technicians to keep up with their growing pools of medical equipment.
Biomed Tech: An Essential Healthcare Role
Although they don’t typically work directly with patients, Biomedical Equipment Technicians (BMETs) play a critical role in delivering high-quality medical care because they keep biomedical equipment safe and functioning. The job requires a diverse skillset; BMETs must have mechanical know-how, IT literacy, medical knowledge, and an understanding of regulations, the supply chain, service contracts, and HIPAA compliance.
Why Is There a Growing Shortage of Qualified BMETs?
The aging U.S. population also affects the healthcare workforce. According to a 2020 compensation and job satisfaction survey by HTM-industry magazine 24x7, 40% of currently employed BMETs are age 55 or older, and 22% are over 60 and nearing retirement. The profession has struggled to attract and retain young talent. Furthermore, the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) reported in 2017 that more than 30 schools with biomed-related programs had closed in recent years, with just 22 colleges nationwide graduating around 400 BMETs each year.
In comparison, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) currently estimates a 7% projected growth rate in BMET jobs between 2020-2030. Regarding roughly 6,300 employment opportunities each year throughout the decade, BLS states that “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.”
How Does the Biomed Tech Shortage Impact Hospitals?
Gaps in Technician Skills
As more experienced Level 3 biomedical engineering techs retire, hospitals are faced with skills gaps amongst their current staff. BMETs are increasingly expected to perform all types of service on virtually any medical device, regardless of individual training and expertise.
Level 1 and 2 BMETs are frequently scrambling to learn how to perform advanced repairs on specialized equipment, while senior techs are spending more time performing entry and general level technician duties.
Around 500 respondents (52%) in 24x7’s survey described their workload as “heavy,” and 12% said their duties were “excessive.”
Heavy workloads create issues such as:
Backlogs and inefficiency: spreading BMETs too thin can result in maintenance backlogs, ineffective use of technician skills, and misuse of employee time. These factors can increase device failures, repair time, and asset utilization and compromise regulatory compliance and device safety.
Employee burnout: ongoing job stress causes burnout, a condition linked to lower job satisfaction, affecting employee retention. Burnout also harms cognitive function, affecting job performance.
A strained clinical engineering department has less time and fewer resources to investigate cost-effective solutions and forces BMETs to outsource many basic repairs, leading to unnecessary supply-chain spending and higher repair costs. Additionally, overtime wages and inefficient workflows can raise labor costs.
How Can Hospitals Manage the Biomed Tech Shortage?
The good news is that new approaches to recruiting, utilizing, training, and retaining talent can help healthcare facilities cope with the shortage.
Alleviate BMET Stress Points
Planned maintenance: strategizing to invest BMET time in planned maintenance to the need for corrective maintenance, potentially gaining hundreds or even thousands of BMET work.
Task tracking: determine task categories, such as maintenance, customer service, staff training, administration, and inventory management. Tracking helps identify the number of hours each technician spends in each category to maximize time utilization.
Optimize workflows based on skills: identify which areas require specialized skills and plan workflows that keep skilled and experienced techs available to service those departments. Determine the most cost-effective plan for outsourcing repairs to ease the workload in areas with the largest skills gaps within your team.
Mentorship and Training Existing Staff
Investing in professional development and specialized certification programs can build on the skills of BMETs of all levels. Currently, on-going training can be sourced in three ways: OEM, AAMI, and 3rd party companies. For example, Elite Biomedical Solutions offers a comprehensive 5-day training program on Infusion Pumps, Syringe Pumps, Ambulatory Pumps, PCAs, Feeding Pumps, Telemetry Devices, Transport Monitors, and O2 Blenders.
Hire Quality Talent
Candidate qualifications: due to the closure of BMET degree programs, hospital HR teams may need to adjust minimum technician qualifications to reflect newer educational models, such as apprenticeships and certification programs.
Compensation: the 24x7 survey showed lower salaries for Level 1 and 2 BMETs in 2020 than in previous years. Better compensation for a demanding, mission-critical job is a worthwhile investment to keep skilled techs on the team.
Attract millennial talent: the factors that attract millennials to technical professions include:
- Emphasis on work-life balance
- Flexible schedules
- Challenging technical duties
- Advancement opportunities
To gain the attention of strong millennial candidates, highlight the purpose and value of their contribution to patient care.
Ultimately, patient lives depend on BMETs as much as they depend on the skills of clinicians.
It’s a rewarding, fast-paced profession. Health systems that invest in streamlining current technician workflows and attracting high-quality candidates can weather the impending BMET shortage. A proactive approach can also improve the overall quality of biomedical equipment maintenance, benefitting both hospitals and the patients they serve.
Elite Biomedical Solutions offers a flexible and customized training program for working BMETs who want to grow their skills and network with other BMETs. The training begins with a survey to identify the specific needs of each participant, followed by a tailored curriculum targeting specific devices or device series. Plus, all participants receive AAMI continuing education credits.
To learn more, check out our Biomedical Technician Training Program Overview.