The convergence of the Information Technology and Clinical Engineering functions is likely to accelerate in the years ahead. This convergence centers on six shared areas:
- Goals. Both functions have goals of improving the safety of care, enhancing clinician decision making, and improving clinical operation efficiency.
- Infrastructure. Both functions need to leverage the enterprise wired and wireless networks, workstations, and server farms.
- Knowledge management. Clinical information systems and medical devices increasingly have computer-based decision support logic; logic that must be kept current, checked for inconsistencies, and assessed for impact.
- Applications. Applications such as acute care documentation and cardiology systems are integrations of applications and devices.
- Regulations. For example, the FDA is examining IEC 80001, which would place enterprise IT networks, which are linked to biomedical devices, under FDA oversight.
- Support. Both functions may need to work together when devices and/or applications and/or infrastructure encounter problems.
Despite the acceleration of convergence, crafting effective working relationships between the functions remains a significant problem.
Most Clinical Engineering departments do not have formal reporting relationships to the Information Technology department. The two groups have differences in culture, vendors, support requirements, regulation, and domain knowledge that often cripple working relationships. The vendors that serve the respective departments don’t often understand the needs of the other departments, e.g., the need to co-exist with other vendors on a wireless infrastructure.
While convergence is challenging, it is essential that it happen — technically, managerially, and strategically. This convergence will require efforts on the part of provider organizations, vendors, regulators, and professional societies. The convergence starts with the two groups sitting down and talking to each other.
John Glaser is vice president and CIO at Partners HealthCare System. He describes himself as an "irregular regular contributor" to HIStalk.