By Jim Fedele
One of the great values a good biomed program brings is the ability to keep equipment running long after the manufacturer deems it obsolete. In the past, it was not uncommon for equipment to be 10 to 15 years old before manufacturers stop supporting it. However lately I have experienced many issues with equipment that is five years old or less.
One of our surgical tables developed a minor leak and needed some attention. The tech who normally works on the equipment was on vacation, so we opted to call the vendor in to take a look at the problem. The field service rep came in and found the issue; a hydraulic line had developed a leak and needed to be replaced. However, there was an issue. The table’s hydraulic system was declared obsolete by the OEM and the rep could no longer get the part. I was surprised because we purchased the same model table less than a year ago. When I asked him about it, he said they changed the hydraulic system about 5 years ago. I was a little frustrated as this was never communicated to me by the company and now we were faced with purchasing a new table for $30,000. At this point, I asked if he could give me the bad line so I could see if we could find one ourselves. I did a quick Internet search and was able to find a local company that specialized in hydraulics. I took the line in to them and they built me a new line in three days. The cost of the new line was 50 bucks and it worked perfectly, problem solved.
The second issue that occurred was with a rather new monitoring system. Due to some catastrophic failures with some in-room monitors, I was finally able to convince the department manger to budget for some back up equipment. I secured a quote from the OEM, pushed the capital request paperwork though our process and the new monitors arrived as ordered. My team and I were very happy to have the backup set of monitors to help eliminate shutting down a patient room due to a broken monitor; however we would soon be disappointed. To our surprise, the new monitors came with a new version of software that was not compatible with the other monitors in the unit and, unfortunately, we found this out while trying to replace a monitor that had failed. I immediately expressed my frustration to my salesperson, his boss and the service manager. I explained to them that given the $1.5 million we have spent with them this needs to be rectified as soon as possible. After a half a dozen meetings, we were able to get them to update the software on all our monitors to make them compatible with the backup equipment. We were in the process of purchasing another 27 monitors for another project and we used that as leverage. Presently, we are in the process of kicking off the software upgrade. I am hopeful it will solve our problem and allows us to use our newly acquired backup equipment.
These two issues have enlightened me that the old process of just looking at the age of equipment is no longer good enough to plan for equipment obsolescence. In the past, I would start telling my customers when equipment was older than eight years to start to plan for replacement. Knowing that in most cases we could get a solid 10 years out of a device. Now, I feel like we need to start talking at year five and anything that relies on software may need to be upgraded or replaced at year three. I know for my customer this is going to be rather frustrating because in some instances the department is just really becoming proficient and comfortable with the monitors around year four or five.
These situations also make utilizing the secondary market for repair parts to extend the life of equipment more difficult. When the software is not backwards compatible it makes finding replacement equipment very difficult. The software level can also make it difficult to find replacement parts on the secondary market. I rely on the secondary market to purchase parts for equipment that is not supported by an OEM.
As I reflect on these situations, I am not sure how I will mitigate these issues in the future. I know I will still try using the secondary market for parts, but I am not sure how to keep my customers informed on potential issues. I consider asset planning to one of the most important aspects of a good biomed department. I will need to alter my methods for evaluating equipment for replacement in the future. Please feel free to share your ideas.
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