Clinical engineering provides a connection between the development of medical technology and its practical application. As such, individuals employed in clinical engineering primarily train and consult medical personnel in uses of various technologies. They also serve as a go-between for medical personnel and medical researchers. This particular discipline is a subfield of biomedical engineering, which involves applying engineering concepts to medical research pursuits.
Some confusion exists over the terms biomedical engineering and clinical engineering. While individuals and even some definitions may view the fields as synonymous, clinical engineering is actually one branch of biomedical engineering. The latter term is a broader field that includes research and design in addition to the practical application duties usually reserved for clinical engineering. Both the general discipline and the subdiscipline, however, deal with the same basic biotechnology and biomedical equipment. Examples of common areas of work include pharmaceutical drugs, medical methods like regeneration therapy, and advanced equipment such as imaging machines.
Teaching and knowledge building is one primary aspect of clinical engineering. Certified professionals help medical employees understand the workings of new technologies and new devices. Clinical engineers may also assist in the training of technicians who install medical equipment into a facility. Both of these responsibilities require thorough knowledge on the part of the clinical engineer.
Therefore, classes in this field are heavily reliant on learning biological, medical, and technological concepts. Management and leadership skills are of further importance. These necessities are typically achieved by an advanced degree in engineering along with required test certification. While clinical engineers must intimately understand the research components of developing medical technology, they are not typically directly involved in the research and development process.
Evaluation and analysis comprise the other chief component of clinical engineering. Individuals in this profession work closely with medical professionals and immerse themselves in medical settings so that they may better recognize the needs of physicians and other medical employees. Therefore, recognizing areas for improvement and communicating these observations to research and development engineering teams is crucial. In addition, clinical engineers can help hospitals and similar facilities determine what available technologies the particular facility may need, and set up financial and business plans for gaining this access.
Although the field has been recognized in some form since the 1960s, it has faced viability issues. Merging engineering with medicine for revolutionary concepts like ventilators led to much excitement about biomedical engineering. Since scholars predicted that the medical world would need trained professionals to explain and help implement these technological advancements, many training programs for clinical engineers arose in the mid to late 20th century. A large percentage of these programs disbanded due to poor enrollment figures, but the International Certification Commission for Clinical Engineers remained. In the 21st century, clinical engineering has experienced a resurgence, and the field carries different names in different regions, such as Healthcare Technology Management.