Patient Monitoring SSAs

Tom ChoweniacSoftware support agreements (SSAs) were once considered the unique service domain of picture archive and communication system (PACS) equipment in the radiology department and image management system (IMS) or data management system (DMS) equipment in the cardiology department. How times have changed!

There is an increasing demand for software and network orientation in patient monitoring equipment. Thus, it is advantageous to complement the biomedical/clinical engineering department with SSAs for support of such equipment in virtually all hospital care areas, including the emergency department, operating room, intensive care unit, critical care unit, specialty departments, surgery centers, labor and delivery, progressive care, and pediatrics and neonatal care units.

Biomedical/clinical engineering departments can greatly benefit from SSAs as part of their overall technical asset support plan. Financially speaking, service contracts provide for a consistent expense that is not subject to the wide annual operating variance that can be experienced with risky time-and-materials technical asset support strategies. SSAs go a step further, allowing you and your hospital to have a fixed allocation of funds for software updates and upgrades. Instead of paying more from your capital budget for a one-time software upgrade when a new version is released, you can pay less over multiple years from your operating budget.

In addition, SSAs offer features that can benefit both biomedical engineering and information technology. With the hospital need for convergence of the skills required from the biomedical engineering and IT departments, solutions that bridge these two areas become increasingly valuable. For example, both biomedical engineering and IT departments have been bombarded with legal and regulatory demands at an alarming rate. In order to meet these demands, nearly every device in the hospital needs to provide information to the patient electronic medical record (EMR). With an SSA, you do not need to worry about purchasing the next dot release or version of the software that provides additional EMR functionality, as all software updates and upgrades are included in your SSA.

Features of SSAs
SSAs are extremely valuable in light of the critical nature of the equipment that they support. Available features, such as software obsolescence protection (SWOP), uptime guarantees, remote operations center (ROC) support, and technical support, provide equipment availability and full-feature functionality—one of the most important hospital and patient benefits.

•    Software obsolescence protection ensures that every software update and upgrade for the equipment is immediately provided upon availability and scheduling. This ensures that your facility has the latest and greatest features and reports associated with your patient monitoring equipment. SWOP covers all updates and upgrades, not just patient-safety-related updates and upgrades.

•    Uptime guarantees contain commitments to maintain the availability of the equipment at a certain percentage of time, normally somewhere between 95% and 100%.

•    The key to delivering an uptime guarantee is remote connectivity and an ROC. Experienced ROC employees are able to remotely diagnose and correct many errors associated with the systems they are monitoring (eg, database-related conflicts). In many cases, because of proactive ROC monitoring, hospitals and patients do not even know that the system was ever unavailable.

•    Most SSAs provide extensive technical support availability. For users providing first call support to the hospital, continuous access to technical support is vital.

In summary, SSAs are tools to complement the biomedical engineering and IT departments in your comprehensive technical asset support plan. With features like SWOP, uptime guarantees, remote connectivity, and technical support, SSAs provide substantial benefits for mission-critical systems.

Tom Choweniac is national service sales manager, GE Healthcare Information Technologies, Menomonee Falls, Wis.