A few years ago, I shared a picture that was taken on the field with a cleft lip surgery team. In the picture, I stood over an operating table between two doctors as they were diligently working on their patient. I stood in the middle with a wrench raised, ready to “help”. The picture was a joke. Clearly, a biomed is the last person you would want to assist in any surgery you may need, however the response to the picture was quite interesting.
“Why don’t you have gloves on?”
“Why aren’t you wearing a mask?”
There seemed to be little concern that I, a biomed, was attempting to assist the doctors with this delicate surgery, not to mention using a wrench.
There was no concern regarding my actual attempt to perform the surgery because the very thought of a biomed doing surgery is unfathomable. However, the reversal of roles (a surgeon preforming biomed repairs on equipment) is not only acceptable, but expected.
All clinical staff, including doctors, will frequently be called upon to serve in the roll of a biomed engineer. Although unfortunate and often discouraging, this technical requirement is usually anticipated. The lack of biomedical technicians or any other technical support often leaves the clinical staff and surgeons responsible for repairing the equipment they are using.
Equipment problems and failures occur at a much higher rate in the LMIC (lower and middle income countries) than in the U.S. health systems. There are many factors contributing to this unfortunate situation and they include the wide variety of available equipment, the source and condition of this equipment, and the shortage of biomedical technicians or qualified maintenance personal to maintain it.
“The introduction, utilization and maintenance of health care equipment require substantial financial, organizational and human resources. Often, this is either not recognized, or not enough attention is paid to it. In the Sub-Saharan Africa region, for example, a large proportion (up to 70 per cent) of equipment lies idle due to mismanagement of the technology acquisition process, lack of user-training and lack of effective technical support.” *
There is zero tolerance in the United States healthcare systems when it comes to proper biomed (technical) support. Sadly, technical support in many LMIC and mission healthcare settings is considered a luxury and not a necessity. Worldwide Biomedical Charitable Services (WBCS) is attempting to change this inappropriate practice. In addition to making as many trips to the field as possible, I am also working on taking more young biomed students or experienced biomeds to the field with me. There is a serious shortage of short and long term biomeds willing and able to serve overseas. We need to correct this problem.
Stay tuned for updates on how this is happening and how you might be a part of this important work.
*GUIDELINES FOR HEALTH CARE EQUIPMENT DONATIONS, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION, Evidence and Information for Policy (EIP), Organization of Health Services Delivery (OSD), March 2000, page 17