Waconia, Minn.-based Gopher Medical may be relatively new to the healthcare technology management field—only coming on the scene in 2012—but the company has already made a big splash. Below, Gopher Medical’s Managing Partner/Biomed Engineer Steve Ziegenhagen discusses why he launched the company, the rationale behind its memorable name, and why being “Minnesota nice” isn’t just a personal value—it’s a corporate philosophy.
24×7 Magazine: As someone who has been in the biomedical industry for nearly four decades, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve witnessed throughout your career?
Steve Ziegenhagen: Well, back in the early ’70’s, we worked on mostly analog technology. We could actually repair a circuit board with ease because we had the actual schematics of the equipment so we could troubleshoot at the board-level and determine where the issue lie.
Once you located the issue, you then replaced the component/part; and, back in that era, it was relativity easy to desolder and resolder the new components without destroying the trace or circuit pads, or the new component. After all, the test equipment and soldering instruments needed to perform the work were very inexpensive.
In the ’80s, we started seeing more digital technologies. With today’s technology, it takes engineers with many years of expertise to troubleshoot at the board level as most devices do not come with schematics like they did years ago. This makes it very challenging for some to be able to repair equipment board-level components without replacing or exchanging the board, which can be very expensive.
Also, today, most manufactures use surface-mount components, making it very challenging to remove the components without destroying the trace and pad. Another challenge HTM’s face today with the new technology is that most equipment is driven with a required software/hardware to function/interface properly with other devices. The test equipment required to trouble todays technology is also very expensive.
In general, as advancement in technology continues to drive progress in healthcare and biomedical research, the traditional line between engineering and medical science is growing thinner.
As medical devices and the internal computers that power them become smaller, faster, and smarter, the medical device industry is making medical practice easier for doctors and more effective for patients by providing more positive patient outcomes—benefitting the entire healthcare system.
24×7: What was the impetus behind your decision to start Gopher Medical, and where did the company get its unique name from?
Ziegenhagen: Here’s how Gopher Medical came to fruition: I worked for Narco Medical Services for more than 12 years as a biomedical service engineer and sales executive; UHS for an additional seven years; and, finally, at Topline Medical for four years until it dissolved in 2012.
After working for larger corporations for 23 years, I knew that it was time to start my own locally owned and operated medical business, where we can make decisions that will better assist our customers.
My wife encouraged me to create a business that always put its customers and their needs first, and so it began. We built the company around biomedical engineers and staff that could answer your questions by offering better solutions. For the first three years, we rented a warehouse space while our business and inventory grew. And in 2015, we purchased our own 6,500-square-foot building located in Waconia, Minn.
Now, 5.5 years after we launched, we have the largest inventory of patient monitors in the Midwest. We are a Philips trade-in partner, a ZOLL authorized dealer, and an exclusive national distributor for the PocketSIM patient simulator.
As far as our name goes, it’s a very interesting story. We tossed around idea after idea, and nothing seemed to fit what we were after. One night, we asked some friends over for dinner to get their opinions. We wanted a name that would associate us with Minnesota. As you know, Minnesotans have a reputation of not only being “Minnesota nice,” but also hardworking, dependable, and trustworthy—and we are all of those things.
Finally, our good friend Tom said, “What about Gopher Medical?” And that was it—it just fit. Our colors, which are similar to the Minnesota Gophers, further associate us with the area. Here at Gopher Medical, we believe integrity and trust are the most important features of our partnerships with our customers.
24×7: Can you please talk about some recent requests in patient monitors?
Ziegenhagen: At Gopher Medical, we have seen a large demand from health care facilities across the country for an interim solution to keep their existing central monitoring systems in full operation. For instance, a facility may be using a system that requires a significant software/hardware upgrade or even a completely new infrastructure, but due to a lack of funds, they need another solution.
That is where we step in and assist them by building central stations, as well as monitors, and even providing them with spare (back-up) systems to support them until they have the financial resources to upgrade.
Customers are also asking us for end-tidal C02 monitoring solutions—since the standard of care is to monitor CO2 levels of patients who are put under sedation. Also, portable devices like patient telemetry packs (where ambulatory patients can move around) have the ability to show vital waveforms on the screen. This allows the clinical and nursing staff to view patients anytime and make decisions on their immediate care.
24×7: What’s Gopher Medical’s position regarding potential legislation affecting third-party service organizations?
Ziegenhagen: It seems to be an ongoing debate on who has the right to service medical technology. Over the years, we’ve seen an increase in using third-party service providers over OEMs, due to their higher costs and potential for equipment downtime.
Still, for years, OEMs have protected their “service training schools”— locking out third-party service providers and even HTM’s from the ability to get formal service training on their products.
Today, however, third parties are attending formal trainings offered by manufacturers—allowing them to offer repair services to customers that are looking for some alternative service providers. Consequently, Gopher Medical has seen a big increase in healthcare facilities sending in equipment for repair due to their busy workloads or even lack of experience to perform the repairs.
24×7: As an industry veteran, what advice do you have for up-and-coming HTM professionals?
Ziegenhagen: With my nearly 30 years in the healthcare field, I have seen many changes. And with technology moving toward IT and networking every day, I would highly recommend all up-and-coming HTM professionals take more IT and networking-associated classes/training, as well as any training offered by the OEM. This is the future of healthcare—and any additional training will only help them succeed in their field and, bottom line, make more money.
24×7: What else do you want to tell 24×7 Magazine readers about your company?
Ziegenhagen: The family-owned Gopher Medical has earned the reputation for being the No.1 trusted medical dealer in the Midwest. We value your business and make your satisfaction our highest priority.