Clinical engineering is an interdisciplinary field practiced in a variety of settings and presenting a diversity of challenges. The clinical engineer is, by education and training, a problem solver, working with complex human and technological systems.
In the hospital, shared service, and asset management firm, the clinical engineer often functions as the technology manager for medical equipment systems. The responsibilities in this setting include financial or budgetary management, service contract management, data processing systems for managing the medical equipment, and coordination of service agreements and in-house operations. The hospital-based clinical engineer may also have responsibility for supervision of the in-house maintenance staff, depending on his or her skill set and the structure of the department. Hospital-based clinical engineers also fill other important functions in assuring that the medical equipment is safe and effective.
These functions include participation in the planning process and in the assessment of new technology, assuring regulatory compliance in the medical technology management area, investigation of incidents, and active participation in training and education of technical and medical personnel. The scope of these activities is expanding significantly as medical technology continues to become integrated into systems and the line between medical, communications, and information systems continues to blur.
Clinical engineers employed in industry work to assure that new products will meet the needs of tomorrow’s medical practice. They are involved in all aspects of the development process, from medical device design and development, through product sales and support. Often, they work with teams of nurses and other hospital-based professionals in evaluating new products or concepts, and during clinical trials.
Clinical engineers also work in private practice, consulting in a variety of settings as expert witnesses, problem solving, or serving on governmental or international bodies such as the Food and Drug Administration or the World Health Organization.
Clinical engineers also have a long history of collaboration to find economic approaches to broad technology issues facing the healthcare system. They played a significant leadership role in calming the hysteria over electrical safety in the 1970’s and Y2K at the turn of the century. Clinical engineers are actively working in patient safety through medical error reduction.
Clinical engineers do many things throughout the healthcare profession, but most importantly, they make a difference.