Do you have the right tools in your tool box? Find out here.

By Joseph J. Panichello

When I began my Biomed career almost 40 years ago, most of the people that I worked with had grown up using both hand tools and power tools.  These biomeds were dedicated to their profession and had a lot of experience in equipment repair—and told many tall tales. We’d sit around the biomed shop boasting of extreme and harrowing service calls, bragging of the skills used to uncover that elusive intermittent failure, and celebrating the often creative and impromptu repairs that we performed.  

Ultimately, our conversations would boil down to discussions about the essence of what made a repair tech a great one. Each of us knew, or had heard about, some famous biomed who could fix anything on the planet. This equipment “mystic” could walk into a hospital room with downed equipment, instantly access the problem, and then proceed to repair the failing machine with a simple pocketknife; the equipment would be up and running within minutes. 

What was it that allowed this “equipment whisperer” to excel in the biomed field?  

The Tool Is Just as Important as the Biomed Who Is Using It

The fictional MacGyver-type person, who could fix anything with just a penknife, was someone all biomeds strived to be. So, many of us carried a kind of pocketknife that had a few attachment tools (e.g. a screwdriver blade, saw, files) to aid us in our work. The Swiss army knife added even more tools and soon became a worldwide icon. It worked pretty well for simple repairs and many service techs, including myself, owned one.

The idea of an all-in-one tool had great appeal and was something many inventors tried to improve upon. But the man responsible for actually creating the ultimate multitool was Tim Leatherman, after he patented his first Leatherman multitool in 1980, which soon reached a near cult following. I got my original “Wave” Leatherman tool in the late 1990s and it served me well for most of my career. 

The idea that a person could fix equipment with one tool, however, is a bit of a fantasy. If you service medical instrumentation or imaging equipment, you need professional-quality hand tools. After all, biomedical equipment is sophisticated in design and construction. Plus, the equipment we service is compact and often secured with unique hardware. That’s why BMETs need special tools to properly effect repairs.

These tools must be in good condition, as well. Once the cause of the equipment failure has been diagnosed, technicians want to get that unit up and running as quickly as possible for the staff. Inferior, worn out, or damaged tools will only hinder equipment repair tasks and could inflict damage to the unit. Screwdriver tips that are broken, or a dull pair of diagonal cutters, may introduce more problems—and they can also be a safety hazard. In truth, good tools make a good tech better.

Best Practices for Your Biomed Tools

To start, biomeds should have a case that clearly displays most of their tools. Whether it’s a large, hard case or a lightweight, soft case, each tool should fit into its own slot or specified pocket. Even better? If the pockets are labeled. Note: Larger kits should have removable pallets that hold similar tools together in one section. 

An organized tool kit is necessary for two key reasons:  

  1. You need to know where each tool is located to gain quick access to it when performing service. After all, searching around for a tool is inefficient. You should be able to “grab and go” without thinking.
  2. When a service call has been completed, you can return the tools to their proper location and account for each item. Remember: Tools are expensive. And you never want to be in a situation where you have to drive back to the facility to recover tools left behind on a field service call—especially, if you cover many states.  

Investing in a quality tool kit or case will be worth it. Pro tip: I carry a second tool case in my work van, which I use for specialty tools, some power tools, and larger tools that are sometimes needed (but not routinely). 

Hand tools that are properly used and well maintained will last many years, which is crucial as these tools are a major investment. You need them to make quality repairs, so you will also need to devise a plan to protect your investment. The easiest way to do this is to never lend your tools to a non-professional. 

Appropriate Use of Biomed Tools

Tools should be kept in sight while at work, and under lock when you are off the clock. You need every tool to perform services effectively so do not lend them to an amateur. Most people do not use tools on a daily basis, especially biomed tools, and they certainly have not been trained in proper care and use. You know which tool is the right one to use for a given assignment.

When I started working at my current employer, my biomed shop was open at all hours of the day, which was a mistake on my part. A coworker would feel completely comfortable borrowing a hand tool from my shop and then, hopefully, return it the next day, where I would discover the tool had been used to accomplish a task that was unrelated to its core purpose.

Because of this, I had to create a bin for worn tools. As a tool wears out through normal use, I will replace it and then add the old tool to the “loaner bin.” Drivers, cutters, files, drill bits, whatever has been lent and damaged by a non-professional also goes in the loaner bin. Over time I would amass a good selection of used, slightly worn tools, which I now gladly lend to friends and coworkers. The tools are ok, and the borrower really doesn’t care about the condition as long as it works properly.

Unlike the MacGyver-type person, biomeds require precision tools to do the job effectively. Knowledge, skill, and experience play a big part—but we must rely on tools to perform the repair. Build a quality tool kit, keep those tools in good condition, and hang a sign on the door of your shop that reads, Sorry, we don’t lend tools. Signed, Biomed Management.

 Joseph J. Panichello is author of X-ray Repair, 3rd edition. Questions and comments can be directed to 24×7 chief editor Keri Forsythe-Stephens at [email protected].