The absolute best way to learn what the problems are in using medical equipment is simply to be on “first call” 24 hours a day. I do not mean to say that a clinical engineering department must be on call when a device breaks. What I mean is that SOMEONE must be available to take calls when people can’t use it—either because it is, in fact, broken, or because they don’t know how to operate it.
I served in such a role for 30 years. When people had trouble with the equipment, they called me. When I was at Ohio State, I trained a research assistant and a visiting engineer the following way: I gave each of them a beeper and then told the hospital staff that if they had any problems or any questions about the equipment, to call these individuals first—day or night. It worked! These two people soon knew more about the equipment than anyone else in the hospital.
Indeed the visiting engineer returned to her company to become the chief human factors person in the organization.
In 2014, there could be several ways that this approach could be implemented. For example, a chief design engineer for a company could take such “help” calls from one or more hospitals, 24 hours a day, on an 800 number. Then, he or she would know the problems people were having with the company’s equipment. Or, if one person at a hospital took those calls, that person would become an expert on the use of equipment at that hospital.
As I said, this is what I did for most of my career. As a result, when I would talk with manufacturers, I did not bring them my opinion on how the equipment should be designed, but I offered a composite opinion based upon all the calls from doctors, nurses, and technicians that I had received over three decades of doing this work.
Frank Block, Jr., MD, retired after 30 years of clinical anesthesiology practice. He is now a research professor of physics at Vanderbilt University.