By Valerie Kern

Patient and user experience inspire clinical features, aesthetics, and other design elements for medical equipment. Similarly, it is important to take the product’s serviceability into consideration early in the design process to enable optimal uptime of that equipment throughout its lifecycle, which can have a significant impact on patient and user satisfaction.

After all, unplanned downtime of medical equipment can be very disruptive to hospital and clinic operations. Rescheduling scans, for example, is frustrating to patients and hospital staff, and can translate to lost revenue. So, when equipment does fail, it is important to get it back up and running as quickly as possible.

Efficient maintenance and installation are made possible by defining design specifications that incorporate a strong understanding of service operations challenges, possible pitfalls, limitations, and needs. Thoughtful design can enable quicker and simpler installation, optimized planned maintenance, efficient prediction of failures, and effective diagnosis and service. On the other hand, missing opportunities during the design phase may lead to more time-intensive installation and maintenance.

Service Design Thinking

True service design considers the entire customer experience, including all interactions with the product and the OEM. These touch points span the lifecycle of the relationship and are optimized through “design for service” or “service design” thinking.

When customers consider the purchase of medical equipment, they take into account the patient and user experience while also considering the disruption to their workflow during implementation. Service design thinking, however, creates solutions to optimize the implementation variables.

This can be done by having service design engineers partner with local project managers to gather existing customer needs—from 3D visualization tools of the delivery path and room footprints to facility requirements—to influence the product design and implementation methods early in the development cycle.

Customers may also consider the disruption to their workflow as a result of maintaining the product at its optimal performance. After all, the physics and utilization of a medical device lends to a need for periodic maintenance and potential unplanned failures. Product reliability is an important input into service design as it identifies the product wear points and diagnostic requirements. And service design thinking allows design engineers to translate these inputs into a product’s serviceability blueprint.

Recognizing that customers’ expect minimal unplanned and planned downtime, service design solutions drive proactive maintenance, reduce time to diagnose and repair, and leverage digital technologies to minimize onsite delays.

What’s more, service design involves planning and organizing the elements of service in order to improve the quality of customers’ interactions. As such, the design team should engage subject matter experts to help improve the quality of knowledge transfer, the response of parts delivery, and the effectiveness of service engineers. Service design thinking aligns the design specifications and service methods development process to these internal quality measures.

Applying the Concept

GE Healthcare engineers had service in mind when they designed the Senographe Pristina mammography system, which debuted in March. (Comfort was also a key consideration, as evidenced by numerous design elements, including the rounded corners of the device’s Bucky.)

GE's Senographe Pristina

GE’s Senographe Pristina

As mentioned earlier, one way for design engineers to gain a strong understanding of service needs is by capturing insights from field service engineers early and often in the design process. With Senographe Pristina, for instance, more than 20 field-service engineers from 11 countries helped co-develop the system with the goal of making it more reliable, easier to install, and easier to maintain, for the benefit of healthcare providers and their patients.

In fact, input from field service engineers helped influence decision-making of hardware design, resulting in a smaller product footprint in the customer room, fewer components for a leaner installation, and fewer parts to troubleshoot in case of failure. Calibrations were designed so most can be performed on the production line versus during installation at the customer site.

Field service engineers further collaborated with the design engineering team to co-develop a gantry tool to move and install the new mammography system. After several sessions of gathering input at a design center, the service engineers returned to test it in real-life conditions on several surfaces, both indoors and outdoors. Field engineers and remote service engineers also contributed to writing and testing service maintenance procedures, developing a troubleshooting guide, and validating diagnostic tools.

Digital and analytical insights were also gathered from non-human sources. Remote access from the existing installed base of previous generation GE mammography systems was used to analyze failure patterns versus usage patterns, indicating the most stressful and clinically relevant scenarios. Senographe Pristina prototypes were placed under pressure day and night over two years to guide efforts for reaching maximum product reliability.

Real-Life Impact

Since GE introduced Senographe Pristina, the company has installed the system in more than 300 sites around the world, including in Europe, Japan, and the United States. Installations are being completed in just three days or less, which is days faster than previous generations.

Moreover, the planned maintenance schedule calls for up to a single day of downtime per year. And remote capabilities, combined with advanced diagnostics tools, are being used to monitor and address potential issues. Such capabilities have also helped facilitate a strong partnership between the engineers who designed the product and the service teams who now install and maintain the system around the world.

Valerie Kern is GE Healthcare’s Mammography Global Service Segment Leader.