Back to school, GE style

Last week I attended OEC University, GE Healthcare’s twist on a user’s group meeting for technologists who work with C-arms and portable x-ray equipment.

Last week I attended OEC University, GE Healthcare's twist on a user's group meeting for technologists who work with C-arms and portable x-ray equipment.

Reasons why the technologists came to this class, hosted in Milwaukee, were fairly straightforward. Some wanted hands-on experience. Others wanted a refresher course on C-arms and portable x-rays. All benefited from the five CME credits they earned. Why GE Healthcare hosted the event was more complex and less transparent.

GE is touting OEC U as "an investment in our customers and their futures," but it's also an investment in GE that has paid big dividends at a time they were sorely needed.

The company hasn't shipped a C-arm from its OEC Utah plant since mid 2006. GE execs signed a consent decree that year with the FDA to stop doing so until quality problems were fixed. Instructors at OEC U told us the company expects to begin shipping by the end of the year. Remarkably, the OEC arm of GE has held onto hundreds of millions of dollars in back orders during this period. OEC U is one of the reasons why.

So far this year, GE has hosted more than 80 OEC University sessions in major cities across the continental U.S. and in Hawaii, enrolling some 2300 technologists. This compares with 15 sessions last year and only a couple the year before. GE candidly states that OEC U was ramped up to "stay connected to our customers in a year when we're not shipping product." But, even after shipping resumes, the company plans in 2008 to offer "a significant number of classes."

By thinking outside the box (which was no longer shipping), GE came up with a win-win. It tapped into a genuine need among staff at its installed base for continuing education and a way to maintain and build customer loyalty. Take it a step further, and you can add patients and attending docs among the winners.

Graduates of OEC U come away with tricks for making everybody better off:

o Always put the image intensifier above the patient, because scatter radiation is most intense near the tube (if you're going to irradiate the doc, make it a toe, not the thyroid)

o Put the lead apron under the patient, not on top (makes sense, if the x-ray tube is on the bottom, duh!)

o Set the beep that indicates continuous fluoro to as annoying a pitch as possible to minimize radiation exposure (technologists are advised to get the field engineer to increase the volume during the next preventive maintenance, if need be)

Yeah, I learned a lot. More than the last time I was in class. Back then, Lockheed was running the show, teaching reporters to dock simulated pieces of the space station. It took me a few tries, but eventually they awarded me a Ph.D. (pretty hot docker). But it was hardly a skill I could use.

This time, just for correctly answering a question, I received something practical--a zippered notebook and a Paper Mate pen, both inscribed with OEC University. And, if I'm ever between the two business ends of a C-arm, I'll have something even more valuable--the knowledge to make sure the apron lies between me and the tube.