Thoughtful Medical Equipment Planning Requires Empathy

A few weeks ago, our team started a quarterly book study, this time for the book “Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy” by Dev Patnaik. As I read, I started thinking about empathy in my medical equipment planning career:  Have I been empathetic enough in the past? How can I improve in the future? Am I applying empathy to everyone I come across in my career?
Our stated mission is “To enhance the quality of healthcare design through thoughtful planning of medical equipment provided by an experienced team committed to methodical precision, insightful problem solving, continuous improvement, and authentic connection.”
In this context, “thoughtful” is a loaded word.  In order to thoughtfully plan medical equipment, we must first understand the people who use the equipment.  We also need to understand how the equipment is used and how it is perceived by patients.  It is equally important to consider the financial impacts of our recommendations.  Our ability to dovetail medical equipment planning into the healthcare design process can make or break a design team.  This is where Empathy comes in.
Empathy is a term we are all familiar with and something that we all have a capacity to provide. Establishing connection makes us more courageous, increases our stick-to-it-iveness, and opens our eyes to opportunities we might not otherwise see.  In other words, it makes us better at what we do.
Empathy in Healthcare Design
In healthcare design, we often focus on the patient’s perspective. We can easily see the world through a patient’s eyes because we have all been there.  We know what it feels like to sit on an exam table in a doctor’s office.  Many of us have undergone surgery and experienced the prep and recovery process first-hand.  When we are engaged in designing a new space, it is easy to see it through the patient’s eyes, but the patient is not the only ‘customer’ of the design process.
Clinical staff – physicians, nurses, technicians, and support staff – are arguably the most affected by the equipment and workflows we plan.  Thus, it is crucial to understand what they go through each day.  Part of our job is to identify and alleviate any shortcomings in current workflows. Because most architects, engineers, and equipment planners have never worked in a clinical setting, we rely on direct feedback from these groups (end users) to inform best practices and improve workflows. 
User-Centered Approach
The practice of incorporating clinical input started in the 1990s when a user-centered approach began. Moving into the new millennium, design teams have solicited end-user involvement in the design process as a standard practice.  Organizations such as the Nursing Institute for Healthcare Design (NIHD) and The Center for Health Design continue to provide a wealth of knowledge to help the healthcare design world understand their customers.
However, in order to truly empathize with our customers, we need to do more than just listen.  We often need to witness something firsthand to fully appreciate it.  At Maia Consulting, we prioritize visiting the departments we are working with very early in the planning process.  We build empathy with our customers by observing how clinical staff and patients experience their existing spaces.  This results in more fruitful conversations during design meetings, a stronger team dynamic, and ultimately a more thoughtful plan for medical equipment. 
Empathy and Fiscal Responsibility
As a medical equipment planning firm, the importance of empathy goes beyond understanding patient or clinician experience.  We also need to connect with a project team made up of project managers, architects, contractors, and hospital executives.  This is where our ability to understand where medical equipment planning fits into schedule, deliverables, and budget stands out.  Flexibility, communication, and empathy are key to successful team collaboration.  
After construction costs, medical equipment makes up the largest piece of a project budget.  From the outset, medical equipment budgets have the potential to make or break a project.  It is important for medical equipment planners to be diligent in preparing budgetary estimates.  We allocate budgets in the most responsible way possible by empathizing with our clients’ financial team and aligning our priorities with their goals. There are various touchpoints in the project delivery process where an equipment planner can do this:
Creating accurate initial medical equipment estimates
No longer is medical equipment simply a standard percentage of overall construction cost.  Several factors are taken into consideration when creating an equipment estimate. We should consider the space program and its alignment with technology considerations, along with incorporation of existing equipment inventories. Existing and future clinical services (especially when recruitment is a goal) and identification of future technologies are also critical factors. Equipment estimates should consist of educated assessments based on recent purchases, existing system contracts, and technology upgrades rather than list price.
Ensuring equipment-related design changes adhere to original intent
As the design meetings progress, the initial equipment list will naturally evolve into a more detailed specification. During this process, the medical equipment planner must maintain the basis of design and uphold the financial directives of senior leadership.  Asset justification and standardization protocols must be put in place as well.  This ensures that user requests are based on support of the clinical capabilities of the facility rather than a “wish list”.  
Managing the equipment bidding process
Once a project is planned and the procurement process begins, it is our job to propose a process.  The process is truly a collaborative effort between Maia Consulting and our clients.  Mapping out and agreeing on this occurs ahead of procurement kickoff.  In soliciting competitive bids, we ensure fairness across the board and maintain a fully neutral approach to vendor selection.  Review and approval of bids may likely involve clinical and leadership team members.  Ideally, the project team (clinical and non-clinical) is made up of those who were present during design and are personally invested in the success of the project.
Reporting and communicating adherence to the budget throughout procurement
This should be a standard practice of all medical equipment planners. Providing information that is simple yet relevant on a regular basis informs our clients of how closely on track we are with spending. When the client is aware of additional funds through savings from equipment, they can reallocate to other needs in the project.
Proposing fair fees, keeping additional service costs down
Aside from the cost of the medical equipment itself, we have a responsibility as a consultant to propose fair fees with a clear scope of services.  We have detailed scoping discussions up front in the proposal process, resulting in minimal changes to our scope of services at later stages in the project.
Empathy is an important skill that can apply to anyone and anything.  In my medical equipment planning career, I want to make sure I am helping to create something that is impactful to this world, and I am grateful to have recently joined a company where the core values and mission statement reflect my own.  Our team at Maia Consulting is constantly seeking ways to understand how our work product affects those touched by it.  In our own way, we are doing our part to make the world a better place through spreading empathy to our clients and partners. 
Contact us to learn more about Maia Consulting.

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