Donald Gillespie: Rx for HTM Departments? Clear Communication

Excellent communication is the hallmark of a healthy biomed or healthcare technology management (HTM) department. With excellent communication, employees are in sync and in the loop, work and data flows are smooth, and the resulting reports are clear and available. Conversely, poor communication is a sure-fire way to keep a department in the dark and out of touch. How important is communication? Think of it this way: When a military unit strikes a major city, it first targets communication hubs, such as TV and radio stations.  Similarly, if an HTM department fails in its communications (operating, in effect, like an isolated bomb shelter), it is likely missing opportunities to positively advertise its value and contributions.

The bomb shelter analogy may seem overly dramatic, but it works and readers will remember the point. Concise communication is the most important skill for professionals in the biomedical field. We must have the ability to condense technical jargon or complex ideas and processes them into short, understandable words and phrases with clear imagery when talking to, not just patients, but anyone outside of the field.

I learned the value of clear communication and imagery early in my career. When I was in aviation maintenance school studying turbine engines, I started off knowing only that there is a big cylinder on the side of an airplane that sucks in air like a tornado in one end and puts out thousands of pounds of thrust out the other. What went on inside was a mystery.

On the first day, the instructor said, “You know those little holiday candle decorations where you light the candles and it turns a little fan over the candles which ring little bells that are fixed there? That’s how turbine engines work.” Mind blown! I think I stood up and applauded until the instructor said, “Sit down, Gillespie!” Process analogies are just as effective with patients. Having used them myself with patients and coworkers alike, I can attest to the positive and grateful reactions such analogies elicit.

Medical equipment can be scary to patients because it is so foreign to them, and the procedures themselves are often serious. That mystery about the equipment can compound patients’ discomfort.  Human factors engineering can result in the development of equipment that is more comfortable and usable for patients and caregivers. But a human factors explanation is just as important to allay patient  fears and misgivings, and keep their minds at rest while their bodies recuperates. The value of clear explanations and effective communications are just as important for HTM departments in general. A department that is open and accessible (accessibility cannot be emphasized enough) to outsiders can do wonders.

Donald Gillespie is a biomedical equipment technician attending Guilford College in Greensboro, NC, where he is studying information systems

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