For busy HTM departments that could use a helping hand, some companies are standing by.

By Chris Hayhurst 

It’s hardly a secret that most hospitals and health systems are looking for ways to better control costs. Declining reimbursement from Medicare and other payers, pressure from patients to make prices more affordable, and a wide variety of other market forces are all pushing providers to focus on improving efficiency across every aspect of the care-delivery process. 

In the realm of healthcare technology management (HTM), this trend is primarily being felt in the form of cuts to department budgets and a general “tightening of the reins” by organizational leadership. Their message to the HTM professionals overseeing the procurement and management of facility technologies: Continue to be fast and effective in everything you do, but keep your spending to a minimum—and make every dollar count.

With that in mind, we reached out to several service-oriented companies for our annual snapshot of what’s available to HTM departments that either don’t have all the resources they need to handle technology management on their own, or value the “value add” that such companies can offer in their quest to do great work at the lowest possible cost. What follows is a glimpse of four companies operating in different facets of the HTM space—Waukesha, Wis.-based GE Healthcare, Twinsburg, Ohio-based reLink Medical, Malvern, Pa.-based Siemens Healthineers, and Broken Arrow, Okla.-based Integrity Biomedical Services—and what they offer. After all, it’s good to know your options. 

Employing the OEM 

One company that’s familiar with the pressures faced by hospitals today is Siemens Healthineers North America. Most of their customers, says Jessica Weems, product manager in Siemens Healthineers’ Service Business Management Group, are still looking for full-service offerings “where there is limited risk on their side—where we’re providing the parts and labor, a full bumper-to-bumper solution to them.” 

In recent years, however, according to Weems, Siemens, like other OEMs, has seen more and more health systems embrace self-service options. “Instead of a cookie-cutter approach, they’re looking for more flexibility. They’re focused on reducing costs, and they’re dealing with a lot of different challenges, and they’re trying to bring everything just a little closer to the vest to try to optimize services across their organizations.”

In answer to that shift, Weems says, Siemens Healthineers for the last several years has offered an imaging-support program called Share360. The program, which allows a customer to pick the support level that best matches the needs of their in-house team, usually starts with a “design stage,” she explains. “We meet with the customer and talk about their pain points, as well as where they want to be in the future, and then we work together to build a plan around those goals.” 

That plan (and resulting service contract) may range from Siemens providing the organization with assistance only very rarely, all the way up to an “ongoing and synergistic support and consulting relationship” that combines the customer’s expertise with Siemens’ own. “In a lot of cases, we’ll train their engineers and give them access to all the tools and resources our technicians have access to, and then we’re just available as their back-up—to fill in the gaps when they need additional support.”

For customers interested in full-service contracts, Weems notes, Siemens offers a standalone “Signature Service” concierge service for angio/cardio/interventional x-ray, CT, and MRI equipment; and the “Guardian” program (a component of Share360 or other Siemens service contract offerings), which provides real-time system monitoring for CT, MRI, and molecular imaging systems. 

With Signature Service, she says, customers are provided with their own direct line to a clinical expert at Siemens Healthineers’ headquarters. That person can usually address any problems immediately, and if not, will send a professional to provide support on-site. With Guardian, on the other hand, Siemens monitors equipment remotely, watching it for indications of any pending failure. “We’re identifying issues proactively—before they even occur,” Weems says. “And when we see something we’ll either dispatch someone or remotely repair it and prevent the downtime from even occurring.”

Customers who include Guardian with their Share360 contract, Weems says, are notified by Siemens when their system shows that a breakdown may be on the way. “And then they can make the decision about the next steps they want to take—to either do what they need to repair it on their own, or to ask us to come and help them resolve the issue.”

The Third-Party Route

Another company that is in the business of resolving issues for hospitals is Integrity Biomedical Services. The company, which offers 12- to 18-month warranties on all of its repair work, specializes in Spacelabs patient monitors, but it can also repair and provide replacement parts for equipment from other major vendors, says president and owner Michele Shahbandeh. “We mostly deal with third parties, but we also have some hospitals that just come to us directly.”

Quality, Shahbandeh says, is what’s most important. “It doesn’t matter how low your price can go; if you don’t have quality to go with that low cost, your customer isn’t going to come back.” Similarly, she notes, great customer service is essential to success in the third-party sector. “I get people all the time telling me, ‘I’ve got this equipment, and Spacelabs is telling me they can no longer repair it.’ Well, when any OEM tells you that it’s an end-of-life unit, that’s where we can help. We can repair it because we have the parts, and we’ll give you a warranty so you don’t have to worry about anything for the next year or year and a half.”

Integrity Biomedical also purchases aging equipment (mostly to harvest parts for their replacement-parts inventory) from hospitals that are retiring their assets. And toward the end of last year, Shahbandeh says, they added disposable lead wires, cables, and other one-time-use parts to the list of items that they sell. “We try to have all the accessories anyone is going to need—no matter what kind of patient monitoring equipment they have. For us, that’s often our way in with a lot of facilities. They come to us for accessories like lead wires and SpO2 sensors and then they learn about our repair and replacement services and decide to work with us in those areas as well.”

Equipment Disposition Help

If Integrity Biomedical paints a picture of how a repair and replacement shop can operate, reLink Medical illustrates how a company can work in the niche hospital equipment disposition space. The reLink business model, explains David Sluka, the company’s senior vice president of sales, involves removing and then reselling, recycling, or repurposing any device or fleet of devices a facility determines it no longer needs. “A lot of hospitals have a very splintered process for dealing with equipment disposition,” he says. “Our solution takes that work off their hands.”

Part of the process, Sluka explains, involves monetizing any retired assets and then returning much of the money to the hospital to use as it sees fit. “There are two primary ways you can work with reLink: One is transactional and the other is contractual—a partnership relationship.”

An example of the transactional approach might involve an organization with a handful of infusion pumps it wants to sell. “We’ll find a buyer, we will get a price on that fleet of equipment, and then we’ll make an offer to the hospital to purchase those devices.” reLink then pays the facility the agreed-upon price, and then typically has the devices drop-shipped to the third-party buyer. “We collect the funds from that buyer and that completes the transaction,” Sluka says.

A typical reLink partnership, on the other hand, involves a program called reLink360. “In that case, what we’ll do is set up regular equipment pick-ups where we send a truck out to the site, remove everything that needs to go, and bring it all back to our warehouse here in Ohio,” Sluka explains. At that point, they make sure the equipment is working, “and then we photograph it, merchandise it, and market it, and ultimately we sell it.” 

Hospitals have real-time visibility into the process through an online portal, he says. “They can see everything—the model, make, and serial number of their device, and whether it’s been sold or it’s still on the market.” 

Proceeds from any sales are split with the partner, Sluka says, but different organizations do different things with the money. “We have a redemption system set up on the online portal where the facility can say, ‘OK, we’ve got [X amount] in credit built-up; just write us a check for that,’ or maybe they’ll decide to use the funds for something else, like to purchase training for its technicians, or to purchase new equipment.” In any case, Sluka says, reLink can help facilitate such a purchase on the organization’s behalf. 

Specialized Imaging Service 

Rounding out our overview of service options for 2019 is GE Healthcare, which offers two options tailored to the needs of its imaging systems: OnWatch, a device-monitoring program for all imaging platforms; and Tube Watch, a monitoring program specifically for CT scanners.

OnWatch, explains Tyler Jones, GE Healthcare’s U.S. and Canada Services Imaging marketing director, will automatically alert the GE service team when an anomaly is detected in an organization’s asset. “And, at that point, GE can intervene and either fix it remotely or—if it needs an onsite repair—schedule that work or notify our HTM customers proactively before the machine goes down. It helps organizations save money on repairs, because the fixes are usually smaller and faster—they take place before the problem can cascade into broader issues.”   

Tube Watch, Jones says, offers similar predictive capabilities provided through OnWatch, “but takes them to the next level.” The system relies on “digital twin” technology, or a software representation of the CT tube in question. “It integrates artificial intelligence and machine learning to build a unique virtual model of that specific tube at that specific customer site and based on its actual usage.” GE Healthcare’s own analysis asserts that Tube Watch can reduce CT scanner downtime by up to 70%, Jones says.

Across all of GE Healthcare’s service options, Jones says, “customization to fit the customer’s needs is always our priority.” From full-service coverage for a critical asset where maximum uptime is key to profitability and patient care, to scaled-back support designed to supplement the strengths and experience of an in-house HTM team, the services GE Healthcare typically provides vary from facility to facility, Jones says. “Organizations are choosing their service models to work with the strategies they already have in place.”

Looking ahead, Jones says, GE Healthcare intends to focus “on continuing to adapt our solutions to meet the market’s evolving needs.” His advice to the HTM community? “I would just encourage HTM professionals to engage in ongoing discussions with the service teams you work with and to make sure they understand your specific goals and challenges.” 

When everyone is on the same page, Jones notes, you’re more likely to make decisions about service and support that will benefit your organization and improve patient care. And, he says, you may make your own job a bit easier as well, “by allowing someone else to help carry the load.”

Chris Hayhurst is a contributing writer for 24×7 Magazine. Questions and comments can be directed to chief editor Keri Forsythe-Stephens at [email protected]