It seems as though the business environment for hospital organizations and companies providing imaging services has never been more volatile. Hospitals have been joining together in buying groups for many years as a way to reduce their costs for purchasing supplies and imaging systems. After recent changes to federal laws and CMS regulations around U.S. health care, that trend evolved to mergers and acquisitions of smaller hospitals and clinics into larger health care organizations. “Get big or go home” seems to be the mantra for the CFOs of health care providers.
Imaging service companies and independent service organizations (ISOs) have seen growth and changes since their inception, especially as the OEMs themselves entered the multivendor services market. GE and Philips have made multiple acquisitions of ISOs to develop their MVS businesses. More recently we have seen big corporations such as Aramark, Sodexo and Baird investing in biomedical and imaging services. And in what I see as a testament to capitalism and ingenuity, we continue to see small and new companies providing service on scanners, sometimes as a subcontractor to an OEM or one of the big biomed services companies.
After more than four decades in medical imaging, I can say the one thing that has remained constant in our business is change. Sometimes the effect on us as an individual is minimal. I spoke with some imaging engineers at a hospital in southern California about five years ago who had worked for four companies over a period of only 10 years; the hospital, Cohr, Masterplan and Aramark! They said their jobs were essentially unchanged.
They even had the same desks in the hospital biomed shop. However, the direct and indirect effects on individual technicians and engineers due to changes in ownership are usually much larger. Mergers and acquisitions can lead to big changes in policies and the working environment, and are typically followed by layoffs. When this happens in your career as an imaging engineer, it may be the first time you realize the importance of your reputation, sometimes called your personal brand. The more value your “brand” has, the better your opportunities are going to be.
You develop a reputation or personal brand with your customers and coworkers whether you consciously think about it or not. Initial impressions are important, especially these days when your coworkers and customers may “Google” you the first time they meet you. With the amount of information available online, it is difficult to maintain an image that is not true to one’s self.
Trust and your personal brand are built over time, sometimes over years. The main components of your brand are reliability, technical competency, the quality of your work and your ability to communicate.
Reliability means showing up to work on time and prepared, and consistently doing your best. It also means you are trusted to do what you say.
Fortunately, being technically competent and able to produce consistently good work doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. Admitting and recovering from a mistake can actually build credibility. Things break (or we would not have jobs), and everyone makes mistakes.
I have known and worked with several imaging engineers who are only mediocre technically but have customers that rave about them as their service engineer. Their customers believe they care about keeping their scanner up and trust them. I have also noticed those engineers are good communicators, and often have developed a personal yet professional relationship with the customer.
But be aware that one bad mistake on the job or in your personal life can wipe out years of building a reputation. Adverse events that are typically associated with risk to your reputation include ethics, safety, security and quality.
The company you work for has a lot to do with how your customers see you. As a representative of the company, it is your job to follow and apply their business policies.
That can be difficult when the news is not what the customer wants to hear. My advice is to make sure the customer is informed of the policies before there is an issue, if at all possible, and to consistently communicate and enforce the policies. When the customer is not happy about it, being empathetic and sincere in acknowledging their dissatisfaction is critical to your ongoing relationship with them.
There may come a time in your career when the company you work for is adversely affecting your reputation. Many ISOs have been started by field engineers who got fed up with “taking hits” for bad parts. And many other ISOs have been started by people that were laid off by companies trimming their costs. That is when you will truly see the value of the reputation you have built.
Jim Carr is Director of Service and International Operations for AUE. He may be contacted via email at JCarr@auetulsa.com.