The Gerber cloth-cutting machine was doing some very intermittent and strange things. “It has to be the microprocessor (CPU),” I told my supervisor. He just laughed and went about troubleshooting the problem. The year was 1983 and I was studying electronics in the evenings while working as an industrial maintenance technician. I had just started studying microprocessors in class and I was, as you might expect, fascinated with the then cutting-edge technology. Little did I know, the CPU was one of the least likely causes of such a problem. As it turns out, there were several small pieces of wire floating around inside a three-inch cannon plug. That day I came to understand that faults occurring in high-tech devices most often have low-tech solutions.
That lesson has served me well in the 30-plus years that I have worked as a BMET. Most service requests have simple solutions. Experienced troubleshooters know that they can isolate the cause of many problems with a few quick observations. Does it turn on? Does the device have a power indicator? Is the indicator lit? Does the device have a battery and is the battery charged? Do the accessories look worn? In general nursing areas, these few questions will help you determine the cause of 90 percent of reported problems.
It is important to know something about the user reporting the problem. If the user is someone that you deal with frequently, you should have a good feel for their level of knowledge of their equipment. Some users know the tools of their trade forward and backwards. Some people are just button pushers. They know they can expect a certain result if they select a certain button. If that does not work for them, then they are lost for answers. Do not let their lack of technical savvy bother you. Hey, they are the reason that you have a job! Always begin by asking the user what they observed. Ask enough questions to make sure that you are getting a clear picture of the situation. Some answers should be taken with a grain of salt. At the very least, your questions communicate to the user that you are concerned with their problems.
There are going to be times that you find yourself facing an irate user. Remember, they are your customer. Listen to their complaint and do not interrupt them. Be careful not to contradict them. Allow them to vent their concerns. Most importantly, ask the right questions. This shows that you are serious about addressing their complaints. They may complain that the device was sent down before for the same problem. In such a case, make sure that you dig a little deeper.
Every biomed tech knows that a huge percent of devices that we are asked to repair just show up in the shop. They may or may not come with notes. The note may not give contact name and/or phone number. If there is a description of the problem it may be something like “it is broke”, “it don’t work”, “please fix” or any number of other less than helpful descriptions. As a skilled technician, you may take such situations as a chance to shine even though it is unlikely that anyone will notice. It is virtually impossible to know that you have fixed the problem if you do not know what the problem was to begin with. Give due diligence to identifying and correcting any problems that you may observe. Visually inspect the device. Many times, you may find several obvious problems such as cracked covers or frayed cords. Sadly, you may find and fix problems, none of which was the original problem. Always perform a thorough performance check before returning the device to service.
Most medical device repairs can be troubleshot rather easily, but that is not always the case. Some problems will leave you scratching your head. Remember that you are not expected to have all the answers but you should know where to find the answers. If you have co-workers that may have more experience with that type of device, be sure to pick their brain. As they say, two heads are better than one. There are also BMET listservers where you can draw on the experience of other technicians. You should also check the service manual. Many device manufacturers provide very detailed troubleshooting guides that can be very helpful. In addition, be sure to utilize the manufacturers’ technical support line. These professionals are often able to help you diagnose the problem quickly. However, I do not recommend calling tech support first. If you are to grow in your troubleshooting skills, then you must challenge yourself to figure it out on your own.
Biomedical equipment technicians are a unique breed. The vast variety of technologies that they are expected to understand is rarely surpassed by other technical professionals. If you have entered the biomedical field, then you most likely have the basic skills needed to be a good troubleshooter. Just combine your skill with a little common sense and you will find success in your chosen profession.
Philip Howell is a BMET III at Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare where he is employed by Aramark Healthcare Technologies.
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