Conquest Imaging, Stockton, Calif, refers to itself as the “ultraservice” ultrasound company. Its four divisions, sales, service, training, and repair, offer clients multiple layers of support from pre-owned systems, parts, and peripherals to technical support and training. Mark Conrad, president and cofounder of the company, worked as a senior field service engineer for a large manufacturer and service provider of diagnostic medical ultrasound systems for 13 years. Eight years ago, wanting to keep customers’ ultrasound up and running 24 hours a day without the headaches that can often occur, Mark started Conquest to meet their needs quickly and economically. 24×7 spoke with Conrad about the future of the industry, the people working in it, and his commitment to continuing education.
24×7: Has the need for refurbished equipment in hospitals been growing, or is it a pretty steady demand?
Conrad: The number of hospitals considering alternatives to large capital outlays for new equipment is definitely on the rise. While there is little doubt that new equipment offers opportunities for reductions in exam time and the implementation of new procedures, remarketed equipment offers hospitals and physicians who may not be in a research facility the tools to address their day-to-day workload. Remarketed equipment offers physicians the ability to acquire three systems for the same amount of money they would have spent on a single piece of new equipment. They can now see three times the number of patients. They need not turn business away because they could not afford to buy additional equipment. It just makes good business sense—happy doctor, happier patients, and improved outcomes.
24×7: Where do you see the remarketing sector going?
Conrad: Conquest Imaging strives to maintain excellent relations with all original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) as well as other remarketers. That said, remarketing as a business needs to push forward investing in new technology, continuing to break through the legislative and technological barriers that continue to be set before us. Working with groups like the International Association of Medical Equipment Remarketers and Servicers to have FDA legislation enforced regarding technical information that should be supplied by OEMs, continues to be very important.
24×7: What do you think biomeds will have to face in the next few years?
Conrad: Biomedical engineers are moving out of the basement and upgrading their skill sets. More and more of the equipment they are responsible for maintaining has internal computers and wired or wireless connections to the hospital network. Laptops, graphical user interfaces, ping, echo, network congestion, cat 5, and more are tools added to the toolbox of the biomed today. Conversations centered around electromechanical, pneumatic, and hydraulic hospital equipment have begun to include discussions about RFID [radio frequency identification] equipment tagging, pulse oximetry systems that learn from the patient, personal area networks, HIPPA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act], and HL7 [Health Level 7].
24×7: What technologies are emerging that could change the industry?
Conrad: Ultrasound systems are getting lighter and more compact. DVD storage, advanced network functionality, flat panel displays, and live 3D imaging are rapidly becoming the norm. The implementation of off-the-shelf parts in the newest ultrasound systems will drive new repair methodologies. In the past, a diagnostic imaging system would have multiple analog power supplies, cartridge tape storage drive, and a board for each step of image acquisition and processing. Operational failures could be attributed to the individual offending module. Now, many of the acquisition, scan conversion, and image processing functions happen in software, in what amounts to a virtual machine. RAM failures, hard drive corruption, and faulty switching regulators are replacing rectifier and board failures. As a company, Conquest Imaging continues to invest heavily not only in advanced technology, but also in the personal and technological growth of our employees.
24×7: What do you hope Conquest Imaging can do in the next 5 years?
Conrad: Conquest will continue to develop new and innovative solutions to the repair needs of the ultrasound community. With an expanded focus on the international marketplace, we anticipate steady growth. I believe the keys for our continued success will be managing growth, continued technological advancement, and never losing sight of the fact that my people are what make Conquest Imaging a success. 24×7
24×7: How did Conquest Imaging get involved with the California Medical Instrumentation Association (CMIA)?
Conrad: Solid business associations are essential allies of the small-business person. As a new business owner, I found that a number of the biomeds I was working closely with were CMIA members. After attending a few meetings, I realized this was a business group that was motivated by the same ethical concerns that were in line with my own, and I became a member. I am now the secretary for [CMIA’s] Central Valley chapter. Conquest Imaging as a business is a supporter of the CMIA, with training presentations, staff membership, meeting attendance, and donations. CMIA is a grassroots, member-driven business association that makes an extremely valuable contribution.
24×7: Are you planning any future CMIA sessions?
Conrad: There is a CMIA training on wired and wireless networking of biomedical instrumentation currently scheduled for September 15. We will be discussing networking as it applies to biomedical instrumentation, personal area networks, and troubleshooting. We continue to offer training presentations at CMIA state and chapter events at no charge. These presentations range from ultrasound basics and DICOM basics to the inspection, care, and storage of probes, and maintenance of laptop-style ultrasound systems.
24×7: On your Web site there are real-time inventory displays. How has technology changed the way you operate as a supplier?
Conrad: The influence of the Internet in our daily operation demanded the rebuilding of our Web offering. The Web in general has become an important part of our business and marketing plan. This online facelift gave Conquest the opportunity to improve the user friendliness of our Web site. The addition of online system quote capabilities and a Conquest online store for parts and accessories has greatly improved our customers’ access to the information they need to make informed purchase decisions. Our training pages not only include readily accessible course descriptions and enrollment materials, but they also provide students with links to local hotels, recommended restaurants, popular events, and local weather. Our FAQ area is evolving into an ultrasound forum for the sharing of information and providing online access to our technical support staff.
24×7: You have divisions devoted to training, sales, service, and repair. What is your largest, most in-demand sector?
Conrad: Our repair department is the heart of our business. Quality is the watchword, from incoming inspection of material to the quality of the packaging we use to send the repaired part out. Every step is choreographed to ensure that it is in excellent condition when it arrives at its destination. With a research-and- development function integrated into the repair department, we continue to improve our technical capability. We design our own test fixtures and procedures, and also design and fabricate replacement parts; in most cases these parts are better than the original pieces.
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