Healthcare technology management isn’t just one area of study, nor is it a single profession. The term includes hospital roles such as biomedical equipment support specialists, clinical engineers, and medical maintenance technicians. That said, we wanted to get two different perspectives on ever-widening field of HTM, and also showcase the diversity in field of engineering. Luckily we have just that with Baby Boomer Al Gresch and Millennial Alyssa Merkle.
Alan Gresch is VP of Client Success at Mainspring Healthcare Solutions. He has over 30 years of technology management experience in multi-hospital health systems, leading both clinical engineering and corporate system logistics teams. Before Mainspring, Gresch was the Corporate Director of Clinical Engineering at Aurora Health Care. Living in Wisconsin, he’s the father of six and grandfather of 10, who owns an RV and bleeds green and gold as a season ticket holder with the Green Bay Packers.
Alyssa Merkle interned at Mainspring Healthcare Solutions, graduated from the University of Connecticut with a BS in biomedical engineering, and is currently enrolled in UConn’s clinical engineering master’s program. Merkle has also been inducted into the Biomedical Honors Society (Alpha Eta Mu Beta). Originally from New Jersey, Merkle is a New England Patriots cheerleader, and in that role tipifies the saying, never judge a book by its cover.
TWO GENERATIONS OF HTM PROFESSIONALS
How and when did you know you wanted to study biomedical engineering, what drew you to the field?
Merkle: My uncle, an electrical engineer, had always given me great advice. I sat with him one night and we just talked about my interests and what jobs I could see myself enjoying. He knew I was good at math and science so he immediately brought up engineering. Then we brought up the fact that I love helping people, and the field that emulated that trait of mine was biomedical engineering. After doing research about the field, I decided I wanted to try it in school and when I got to UConn and started learning more, I knew I had chosen the correct major. It combines the things I like doing best and it’s a field that will continue to grow, so I can continue to learn and develop with it throughout my career.
How has the HTM field changed since you first started your career, what was it like then versus now?
Gresch: Early in my career we were much more involved in the actual clinical application of technology. Fields like electrophysiology and cardiology diagnostics were in their relative infancy so in addition to doing equipment repair we spent a lot of time on the research side of things helping develop diagnostic tools and being right next to nursing staff in setting up and connecting equipment to patients. Also, my first CMMS was in the form of data cards printed from our hospital’s data center! Today there is a much greater need to manage projects and utilization of assets to keep costs at a minimum and still deliver exceptional care.
You’ve just finished your undergrad and are headed to grad school in the fall. How has your experience been so far, and what are you most looking forward to about continuing your studies?
Merkle: My experience at UConn has been amazing in terms of enjoying my major as well as appreciating all the other opportunities available at the school. Moving forward is going to be just as much fun, as I am starting a new chapter with clinical engineering. I liked the biomedical major and loved that the clinical side of biomedical engineering is even more focused on closely helping people. I was recently accepted into UConn’s master’s program for clinical engineering. The thing I am looking forward to most, is starting a new journey in a field that I can continue to learn and help people to the best of my ability.
What’s one of the biggest misconception in hospitals about HTM departments?
Gresch: A big misconception is that HTM departments are just fix-it guys. Many organizations fail to take advantage of the business benefits this group can bring to things like Capital Planning and Asset Management.
How do you explain the clinical engineering and healthcare technology management (HTM) field to your friends?
Merkle: I had a few friends in engineering fields such as biomedical, electrical, and chemical engineering. Besides that, I had a few friends in the business school, a few friends in the education program, and my best friend was in the nursing program. When I was explaining clinical engineering and HTM to them in the simplest way, I would tell them that we are the people that are the liaisons between patient safety and the device manufacturers. Of course, it is so much more and we are the people that make the hospital workflows function as efficiently as possible through database cleaning, different committee meetings, learning hospital workflow by being present in the hospitals, and implementing new plans to create a more effective and efficient environment overall.
What advice would you give to young professionals like Alyssa starting out in the HTM field?
Gresch: Reach for the stars! Learn as much as you can about the challenges facing your organization and how you can help through effective technology management and integration. In addition to developing strong relationships with nursing, get to know your finance, accounting, and IT groups and learn how you can bring value to them as well.