By Jim Fedele
At least the COVID-19 pandemic has stoked the right to repair movement. I am encouraged that we may actually see some positive change on this front. One side of this issue that I slightly overlooked is the impact this will have on our options for getting equipment serviced outside of the OEM. I would l like to share a story about a situation I experienced lately. It involves a CT scanner, the OEM and a third-party servicing company. Without the expertise of the company that I used we likely would not have gotten our problem solved. Luckily, the third-party servicer had the proprietary knowledge needed to solve our issue.
The CT scanner involved in this situation was only 11 years old. At the time of purchase, it was one of the first dual tube units. The promise was that it would take our cardiology program to a new level. However, we didn’t utilize the feature till almost five years later. The unit was very expensive, and the service contract was over $160,000 per year. When the unit was purchased, a point-of-sale agreement for 6 years (warranty year plus 5 post-warranty) was signed that locked in the OEM service. I would argue we probably never realized the ROI and benefits that we were promised. Unfortunately, that isn’t too uncommon in our industry. By the time the service agreement expired we had enough history on the unit that it made fiscal sense to renew the service contract. The unit would go through a tube every 12 months and the tube costs exceeded $200,000.
When the CT scanner was around 8 or 9 years old we got notice from the OEM that it was going to be declared end of life by 2022. I get these notices all the time and did not think too much about it as we have had CT scanners in use that were well over 15 to 20 years old. The OEM still sold us a full-service agreement in 2021 and in 2022 they lowered the cost and changed the wording to include as long as parts were available.
In February of 2022, after a full day of being down, it was determined that the unit needed a tube. This was almost exactly one month past the warranty of the tube that was replaced in January of 2021. I got the call from my technician giving me the news, which was followed by a call from the OEM service manager telling me they did not have any tubes for the unit. Then, he sent me the letter again that stated the unit was end of life and support. I managed to suspend the level of frustration I was feeling to maintain a level of professionalism. I composed my thoughts and my tech, and I got to work to find a tube.
As luck would have it, the tube was not common. We struggled to find a replacement and a company that would install it. The installation required a special tool to measure and set oil pressure. Our regular sources were not able to help us. I escalated this to my management team and soon got some suggestions. One of the suggestions was to check with GE who is a pretty good partner to our organization. I called my local service manager, and he pointed me to a company that could help.
I called Avante Health Solutions per my GE rep’s recommendation. I was not disappointed; they were able and willing to help us. Because of the uniqueness of the tube, it did take a little time for us to get one and get the system back up. However, what impressed me was their technician had the knowledge and the tools to take care of our unit. I was so impressed with their abilities; we signed an agreement with them and canceled the agreement with the OEM.
As I reflect on this situation, it occurred to me that if we had laws in place that guaranteed the right to repair equipment, I may have had an easier time finding someone to help us. For editing purposes, I shortened the story, but we worked on this problem for a full week before we had a solution. I believe that if we can get the legislation needed to ensure we have everything we need to repair equipment efficiently it will create a lot of opportunities for third-party repair companies. Not to mention the local in-house biomed teams.
Jim Fedele, CBET, is the senior director of clinical engineering for UPMC. He manages six Susquehanna Health hospitals. He has 30 years of HTM experience and has worked for multiple service organizations.
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