Clinical Engineering is the term given to the development, use, on-going support, and maintenance of technology for diagnosing, aiding or treating patients. It covers a very wide range of devices used in healthcare - from simple items like crutches to anaesthetic machines, artificial hip joints, patient monitors, robotic surgery, ventilators and wheelchairs. Medical devices benefit from advances in electronic, electrical, information and computer technology (ICT), hydraulics and mechanical technologies as well as biochemical and gene developments. Dramatic advances in technology have transformed many medical devices. Clinical Engineers therefore require very broad training and experience.
What does it involve?
Clinical Engineers design new devices and help with the ongoing development of existing ones to satisfy clinical need. For example, to improve pacemakers, they may need to build simulations to study the electrical and mechanical function of the heart.
Clinical Engineers manage the technology that is used in hospitals, working closely with clinicians in evaluating equipment to assess clinical need and decide what purchases are required.
Clinical Engineers are also responsible for servicing and repairing equipment and making sure it is in the right location when needed. This requires insight into how the device is used within the clinical environment and the knowledge and skills of those using the equipment.
Some of the technology used in healthcare, such as dialysis or radiotherapy equipment, is so complex that it has to be maintained by Clinical Engineers who specialise in that particular equipment. They are also often involved in risk analysis, adverse incident investigation and treatment planning as well as user training.
Who needs clinical engineering?
Anyone who has ever visited a doctor’s surgery, a hospital or clinic will have benefited from the work of clinical engineers. Devices for measuring blood pressure, listening to the heart or taking temperatures are some of the most commonly encountered. Patients who need artificial limbs or replacement joints, users of custom made wheelchairs and those unable to operate household devices without assistance will often be seen by a clinical engineer who may have developed or modified the equipment they are using. Patients undergoing keyhole surgery and robotic surgery, people recovering in rehabilitation clinics, and patients undergoing scans, or needing technology to deliver their treatment will also be reliant on clinical engineering.
New medical technologies are becoming available all the time, and clinical engineers are responsible for evaluating these and selecting the most appropriate for their hospital. Sometimes this decision is made after conducting clinical trials. Clinical engineers also either deliver or advise on any additional staff training required for the safe operation of new systems. The role of the Clinical Engineer is becoming ever more closely linked to those of the clinicians delivering care and the scientists making new discoveries for the benefit of healthcare.