Sometime in my first year of working in my first hospital, Bellevue in NYC, I thought I had a heart attack – at work. I felt a clutching in my chest, I turned pale and almost passed out. It wasn’t painful, but I had never felt anything like it before.
This happened in the Biomedical Engineering department, and the staff got a wheelchair, plopped me in it and took me to the ED (What we called the ER – the Emergency Department). The director of the department asked me a few questions and then, inadvertently, introduced me to what would become my appreciation of technology’s human disconnect. Here’s what happened. He pinched my thumbnail, released it, looked at me and said the following – and believe me when I say I remember his exact words – “Well, you haven’t had a heart attack, but it’s going to take us four hours to prove it.” He then left for the next patient, and left me wondering what had just happened.
A good hospital is an egalitarian community: everyone working for the benefit of all including, by the way, all who enter as patients. The bad news is you can’t determine the community state of affairs by reading U.S. News Best Hospitals Rakings and Ratings. Consider this: How comfortable would you feel flying if the airline industry announced that maintenance inspections on aircraft would be tracked by how often technicians report to work on time – instead of tracking the numbers of aircraft actually inspected? This is how compliance rates are set for the periodic maintenance of medical equipment in hospitals and nursing homes: Inspections are tracked by rates of adherence to a schedule, not by the count of equipment actually inspected. Clinical engineers have a unique view of the inside workings of hospitals – it can be exhilarating and frightening.