Until recently, the daily management of healthcare technology was my core focus, having served as chief clinical engineer for the VA New England Healthcare System. When I stepped into a new role as deputy network director for that system—a position with a more global focus—I was struck by how often I had fallen victim to a “technology first” mindset. Now, I am being called upon to coach others from making my previous errors.
As clinical engineers, we often are quick to recognize a problem, diagnose a situation, and leverage technology to resolve the issue, but what about when technology cannot or perhaps shouldn’t be the answer?
I want to be careful here because using any one technology as an example is perhaps unfair. There is no opportunity to rebut, and I concede that there are many others who might see things differently. So, rather than use a real example, I will use a set of hypotheticals.
Your clinicians need to calculate a data set for patients. This data set has been calculated for patients the same way for years, but a new technology-driven solution can do in three minutes what takes most people five minutes. Now, here is the hitch: it costs $300,000. Still, using a simple ROI calculator proves that it pays for itself in three years. Do you buy it or do you continue to calculate manually? It is, at first, a seemingly simple “yes” decision, offering the chance to improve efficiency with a reasonable ROI.
What if we added that your organization could spend that same $300,000 on a technology that would improve care for a small subset of patients, with an ROI of 10 years—but no impact on reimbursement. If you are like me, you’ll read this and confidently determine you can find a plan ‘c’ that allows you to have both—perhaps a unique purchase model or something to the like.
Now, let’s take a similar hypothetical, but take it one step further. One technology will save one life per year; another technology will allow you to treat 1,000 additional patients per year (to an unknown consequence). Which is the better technology to direct your organization to invest in if they cost the same amount?
I suppose my message here is not asking you to consider the math or challenging you to come up with an algorithm to determine why one solution is better than another. I am asking you to take pause. When you present a new technology, do you think about it from the perspective of “need, want, or would be nice to have”? As healthcare technology managers and clinical technology leaders in our organizations, we’re often recognized as subject matter experts who are called upon to provide guidance on one solution’s merit versus another. It’s important that we understand that sometimes technology is not the answer.
Barrett Franklin, MS, CCE, is deputy network director with the VA New England Healthcare System, VISN 1. He is a member of AAMI’s Technology Management Council.