Once upon a time medical-device vendors considered field service a necessary evil. Nowadays, however, service is king, and one way to ensure your customers get the royal treatment is to use the latest technology to manage your field-service operations. Whether a large company or small independent, you’re sure to be outstanding in the field with a full complement of field-service management tools.

 A few short years ago most people with a working knowledge of medical device field service would tell you that “field service” stretched the definition of service to its limits. Some of the most glaring inefficiencies were the frustrations caused by the omnipresent telephone — being put on hold, disconnected, lost in the system or waiting hours to have a service call scheduled. At the same time, many medical device vendors viewed field service as a necessary evil.

But today, with profit margins on equipment sales eroding, savvy companies have found that they can turn a hefty profit via the 10-year maintenance contract. Amit Bendov, senior vice president of marketing for ClickSoftware Inc. (Campbell, Calif.), claims, “Now the service executive has become the company hero because field service is actually driving revenue.” Peter Semmelhack, founder and CEO of Antenna Software Inc. (New York City), adds, “Today is a great time to be in the field service world. For the first time in 20 years, there is technology available to eliminate the phone — at a price point that makes sense for companies of all sizes.”

First, the essentials
Not all field service tools are created equal. Semmelhack says, “Any tool you use has to be capable of delivering high-quality information to the right person as close to real time as possible.” Why? First, there is the profit motive. To keep an MRI scanner running at a profit, it should be fully booked, which, in turn, requires preventive maintenance. So in order to be effective, field service technology should deliver a real-time knowledge base incorporating diagnostic codes and error codes to the technician. Another element of medical device field service management is the human health issue. Medical devices should be working optimally for a hospital to meet its mission. The FDA adds a bit of a burden in the form of 21CFR Part 2. This regulation requires a complete transaction log of all changes to the medical device. Jacques Cormier, vice president of software applications for Astea International (Horsham, Penn.) notes, “Field service management software should provide traceability throughout the system.” Cormier adds two other requirements to biomedical field service tools: the ability to schedule preventive maintenance and to capture tests done as part of preventive maintenance.

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