Because all industries have become heavily reliant on technology, the temporary loss of any device usually results in disrupted productivity and services with a simultaneous loss in income. Sometimes those losses can be quite costly.
In the August 2005 edition of Quality Digest, Howard Cooper wrote an article about device failure. He estimates that failure of a robotic paint sprayer in a General Motors assembly line could cost as much as $3,350 per minute ($201,000 per hour). The costs are high because disruptions reduce the total daily factory output of automobiles. It also affects the schedules of sub-assembly lines and “just in time” inventory schedules. During downtime, idled employees still receive pay while utility bills, amortization and other associated costs must be covered. Cooper concludes that with downtime costs at such high levels, engineers who are responsible for maintaining assembly line equipment must change their focus. Their primary concerns must be reliability, minimization of downtime and the speed of repair. He also concludes that under this scenario, engineers who focus solely on repair costs are likely to find themselves seeking other employment. That statement is worth repeating: engineers who focus solely on repair costs are likely to find themselves seeking other employment.
Is it possible to apply Cooper’s conclusions to hospitals? Although hospitals do not have General Motors’ linear assembly lines, they have many departments such as lab and imaging who depend solely on technology for their productivity. When devices in those departments fail, they experience high downtime costs in terms of delayed patient care, disrupted scheduling, and productivity. These costs are likely to far exceed repair costs. For example; when imaging equipment fails, not only are revenue and productivity lost, but diagnosis and treatment is delayed. Added to the revenue loss are the costs of paying idle technicians and other staff, including overtime to get the involved departments back on schedule. The loss of a surgical laser can create a delay or postponement of surgery and that might include the costs of re-prepping the patient and the O.R., and paying anesthesiologists and OR staff. Failure of an ultrasound machine might have financial impact on a patient who has taken valuable time off from work to come in for an appointment only to be told that the machine is out of order and that they will have to come back another day. Beyond a hospital’s direct costs, are the emotional toll downtime takes on staff and patients.
As Howard Cooper concluded; engineers who focus solely on repair costs are likely to find themselves seeking other employment. With this in mind, isn’t it time that biomedical engineering departments reassess their roles within their institutions and focus more on reliability, minimization of downtime and speed of repair?
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