Biomedical Engineering Education Technology Transfer

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Biomedical Engineering Education and
Technology Transfer

P. Reddy

Biomedical Engineering Department
University of Akron

ONTINUED INNOVATIONS in a number of technical
disciplines have created a need for rapid technology
transfer in health care delivery. The biomedical engineer can
play a vital role in this technology transfer.
Biomedical engineering is a vast, challenging, and interdisciplinary field. It represents the application of engineering
principles, with judgment, t o problems in biology and medicine for the benefit of mankind. Practically, every branch of
engineering can have fruitful interactions with a number of
medical disciplines (Fig. 1). These interactions, t o a certain
extent, have already increased fundamental understanding of
both physiological and pathological conditions, have yielded
in improved diagnostic methods (e.g., mobility aids and
communication aids for handicapped individuals), have increased health care (e.g., reduction of hospital stay, improved patient care, etc.) and have prolonged life expectancy
through the use of prosthetics and artificial organs [ l I. These
biomedical engineering achievements represent only a minute
fraction of what could be accomplished through the application of existing technology t o biomedicine. As w e look in t o
the future, emphasis should be placed on the application of
engineering t o more clinically oriented disciplines. On the

Figure 1. Biomedical Engineering Domain: Biomedical engineering
represents integration of engineering with medicine which results in
numerous benefits to the society (e.g., improved quality of life and
prologed life expectancy). Biomedical engineering activities can be
classified horizontally with one engineering discipline interacting with
one or more biomedical disciplines (eg. biomechanics, and biomaterials), or they can be classified vertically with numerous engineering
disciplines interacting with a single biomedical discipline (e.g.,
rehabilitation engineering).



other hand, engineering and technology continue t o make
rapid advances. As summarized in Fig. 1, all fields of
engineering can be brought t o bear on problems in health
care. With effective technology transfer, biomedical engineering can offer even more benefits t o health care. This
paper examines the role of a biomedical engineering educator
in the technology transfer in health care delivery.

Technology transfer, t o a large extent, depends on identification and conceptualization of potential applications. Often,
problems in medical disciplines are ignored due t o the lack of
proper communication between the physician and the engineer. In the current practice, it is the physician who identifies
the problem and brings it t o the attention of the engineer. In
the future, the biomedical engineer should play a role in
identifying medical problems that need engineering attention.
In this context, the biomedical engineering educator could
play a key role in technology transfer by training students t o
identify problems.
Internships. The traditional view is that a well prepared
student should be able t o solve any problem from fundamental principles. Although a thorough understanding in fundamentals is essential for problem solving, it should be viewed
as necessary but not sufficient [21. The student should be
provided with an opportunity t o use his understanding of
these fundamentals by identifying and solving "real-world"
Hospital internships provide an excellent opportunity for
the biomedical engineering student, both at the graduate and
undergraduate levels, t o learn t o identify and conceptualize
medical matters that could benefit from technology application. In addition, students are exposed t o a clinical environment. Several universities are currently experimenting with
this approach. For instance, The Hartford Graduate Center
and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute encourage their students
t o undertake hospital internships. Osmania university in India
requires all undergraduate students t o complete a semester of
clinical rotation in either the junior or senior year. A t Drexel
and Case Western Universities and Trinity College, the clinical
internship starts in the summer session and continues
through the second year of the graduate program [3,41. In
addition t o learning medical problem identification, the students w h o complete these internships also learn h o w t o
communicate with medical personnel in a clinical environment.
Grand Rounds. Education is significantly enhanced when
biomedical engineering faculty and students participate in
hospital "grand rounds," along with members of the medical
staff. When these students join the "real" world, they will
have better appreciation for medical problems, and will be
better equipped t o contribute t o technology transfer in the
health care field. In addition t o establishing the engineer as a
member of the health care team, these "grand rounds" help
increase the acceptability of the technology by the health
care team. For instance, Ohio State University already has a
"Grand Rounds" course as part of the B.M.E. curriculum.
Adjunct Faculty Appointments. Physicians should be encouraged t o become involved in biomedical engineering
education by serving as adjunct faculty. A survey of academic BME departmental brochures indicates that several
universities in the United States are already doing this. These

MARCH 1989

physicians should serve on graduate student committees.
Undergraduate design projects should be guided b y engineerphysician faculty teams. Also, these adjunct faculty should
occasionally be invited t o present classroom lectures and
departmental seminars. These activities would enhance student's perception for medical problems and technology
Collaboration. Biomedical engineering students should be
encouraged t o participate in collaborative projects involving
engineer and physician faculty. Many universities are currently involved with such collaborative projects, but a majority of these projects are either basic science or do not involve
patients. In this context, rehabilitation engineering has
emerged as a distinct discipline, which is representative of
engineer-physician collaboration. Biomedical engineering student projects involving human subjects should be encouraged. Such experience will serve in industry or hospital t o
play a major role in technology transfer.
Rapid technological advances in other fields will soon lead
t o new health care concepts such as computer aided surgery,
expert systems for diagnosis, and robotic surgical manipulators. Acceptability is a major factor in technology transfer in
health care delivery. Due t o a lack of awareness and
background, the health care team may offer resistance t o the
introduction of new technology, at least during the initial
stages. The biomedical engineering educator can play a role in
enhancing the acceptability of technology:
Educating the Health Care Team. The health care team has
the responsibility of end-application of a technological tool.
Biomedical engineering educators should develop appropriate
continuing medical education courses and seminars for
physicians, nurses and physical therapists, etc. Continuing
medical education (CME) credit is awarded through the
American Medical Association.
Full-time and part-time postgraduate courses in biomedical
engineering should be developed for physicians. For example,
courses t o cover topics such as artificial organs, prosthetics,
biomechanics, noninvasive diagnosis, instrumentation for the
practicing physician, telemetry, computers in medicine, and
biomaterials can all be developed with little or no mathematics. Also, specialized courses emphasizing the application of
engineering t o a particular medical specialty can be developed. Some examples of this type of course are: engineering
in cardiology, engineering in anesthesiology, orthopaedic
biomechanics, rehabilitation engineering, and engineering
neurology. For example, Columbia University and St. Lukes
Hospital in New York City have offered short term "Biomechanics'' courses for health professionals, which have been
widely attended by orthopaedic residents and surgeons,
Training of Residents. Training of residents in biomedical
engineering is an important arm of technology transfer.
Collaborative arrangements should be made between hospitals and universities for participation of medical residents in
biomedical engineering projects and short courses. Also,
short courses similar t o those discussed above should be
developed for residents. Several universities currently offer
short courses on orthopaedic biomechanics. A t the University
of Akron, w e have collaboration with area hospitals t o involve
orthopaedic residents in collaborative research. When these
residents go into practice they will be much better prepared
t o accept new technology.
Engineering in M.D. Training. The medical doctor of tomorrow will be working in an increasingly complex technological
environment. Engineering and instrumentation principles
could be taught t o medical students 151. A course on
biomedical engineering (4 t o 8 credit hours) should perhaps
be introduced in the medical school curriculum as an elective.

Also, courses in biomedical engineering should be developed
for non-engineering students.

The biomedical engineer should establish him/herself as a
part of the health care delivery team; only then will technology transfer proceed as the normal course of events.
Biomedical rngineering Clinics. Many aspects of physical
medicine and rehabilitation could benefit from the physician-engineer team. Patients may require specialized custom
made devices t o gain independence. In addition, an engineer's opinion may be necessary in device prescription. These
and similar activities can be grouped into biomedical engineering clinics. Already, several major rehabilitation centers
in the United States are involved in regular weekly, bi-weekly,
or daily clinics in rehabilitation engineering. W i t h increasing
technology, rehabilitation engineering clinics may become
popular in the future.
Biomedical engineering clinics similar t o the rehabilitation
engineering clinic are needed t o cover other medical disciplines. Technology transfer could be significantly enhanced
with these types of clinics. Biomedical engineering students
of the future should be trained t o do this type of "private
Independent Clinics. Independent biomedical engineering
clinics/labs can be established for quantitative physiological,
biomechanical and bioelectric assessments of patients. Patients would be referred t o these clinics by the practicing
physicians. Quantitative assessment (BME) clinics could be
as widespread in the next f e w decades as clinical labs are
today. The biomedical engineering faculty should act as
catalysts in training students t o establish such clinics.
Biomedical engineering discipline has emerged t o a point
where it can significantly contribute t o increased and more
efficient health care delivery. Universities will play a key role
in technology transfer b y training biomedical engineering
students t o identify medical problems that can be addressed
with technological solutions.

Reddy NP: What is biomedical engineering. Engineering rn Medicine,

13:157-158, 1984.
2. Johns RJ. Current issues on biomedical engineering. /€€E Trans Biomed
Engr, 22: 107-1 10, 1975.
3 Schwartz MD: Biomedical Engineering Education In €ncycIopedia o f
Medical Dewces and Instrumentation, J. G . Webster (Ed). New York, John
Wiley, pp. 392-403, 1988.
4. Newhouse VL, Mylraa KC, Topham WS. Clinical Engineering a: an
Academic Discipline. J CIrnr Engr, 10,203-21 9, 1985
5. Laufman H: Bioengineering in medical schools of United States and
Canada, Medical Instrumentation, 7:2. 1973

Narender P. Reddy received his B.E. degree in
mechanical engineering from Osmania university (India) in 1969, M.S. from University of
Mississippi in 1971, and Ph.D. in biomedical
engineering from Texas A&M in 1974. He
served Texas A&M. Baylor College of Medicine, University of California San Francisco,
and Helen Hayes Hospital (N.Y.) in various
positions before joining the University of Akron in 1981 as associate professor of Biomedical engineering. Also, he serves as an adjunct
staff at Edwin Shaw Hospital. Dr. Reddy has
published and presented over a hundred technical papers, and has
chaired technical sessions at numerous national and international
scientific meetings. Dr. Reddy's interests are broad and include the
application of biomechanics to various clinical disciplines including
orthopaedic, rehabilitation and cardio-pulmonarymedicine.

MARCH 1989



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