Built from the ground up by president and owner Jim Theis, Jet Medical Electronics Inc, Anaheim, Calif, was founded almost accidentally. BMET Theis began repairing telemetry systems for nearby facilities, and, within a short amount of time, he found himself fixing various systems for a wide variety of health care providers. As his work grew, so did the company. Currently, Jet Medical has 11 employees and has a national customer base. Theis says that the company still focuses on its primary mission: helping biomeds. 24×7 recently talked with Theis about the origins of the company and current issues facing biomeds.
24×7: Can you tell me a little bit about the history of Jet Medical?
Theis: Jet Medical started in January 1985. I was working out of my house as a biomedical technician servicing a few hospitals in the area. I started out by selling batteries, cables, and electrodes—standard things that small hospitals buy for their biomeds and techs. I was mainly doing service; lots of infusion pumps. Milt Nix, who was the head of biomeds at Long Beach Memorial Hospital at the time, asked me if I could rebuild one of his telemetry central stations and all of the transmitters for him—it was an old Spacelabs Apollo system. I rebuilt that, and about a week after I delivered it to Milt, I got a call from another hospital to rebuild a telemetry unit. Then people started calling me to fix their telemetry transmitters, so I set up a shop to repair equipment that was sent to me.
At that time, I also started to rep a telemetry firm. That kind of led into more and more telemetry work. Then we started renting telemetry for hospitals to use in overflow situations. Just as anything else goes, the more we were out there, the more equipment we got in for repair. So I had to hire some people for the repair and rented a bigger building. Now we have 11 employees working for us and we repair everybody’s telemetry.
24×7: Did OEMs ever send you business?
Theis: Companies at the time like Hewlett-Packard and Marquette, before they were GE, would always refer their accounts—if they had older equipment—to us for repair because they knew that we repaired the older equipment. We got into the business of repairing a lot of equipment for the manufacturers. That’s basically how it started.
We do an awful lot of depot-level maintenance on boards for Spacelabs, GE, and Philips. We also supply the batteries and things that go with the equipment, the same things that we originally started out with, although the disposable supplies are a very small part of the business now.
24×7: So you were essentially a freelance biomed?
Theis: I started managing warmers with a company called IMI. When they folded I went to work for a company called KDC Medical as their field service engineer repairing their equipment. I did that for a few years and was in sales for major medical suppliers for quite a few years. Then I just decided to go out on my own.
24×7: Would you say that all of your experience in the various sectors of the industry helped Jet Medical?
Theis: Yes. Whenever you go to work for any of the manufacturers, you have to learn their products. They send you to school, and the schooling is important because you not only know the product and where and how it is used, but also, it gives you some idea of what the equipment is supposed to function like. That knowledge is very important. We have a lot of biomeds today that know the electronics very well, but as far as the functionality of the systems, they don’t teach a lot of that in schools. It has to be learned. And that’s what’s good about a lot of the ISOs: They actually teach their new technicians how the equipment is used and how to detect problems in the system.
24×7: Do you perform all repairs in-house, or do you offer on-site repair as well?
Theis: There are some on-site repairs on antenna systems because you can’t bring those in-house. You have to go to the facility. A lot of the new server systems now cannot be repaired in-house. Other than that, we try not to repair a telemetry transmitter or monitor in a hospital.
Generally, it costs a lot more to get someone on the road than it is to send the device in. We have loaner and rental equipment available for our customers, so we can generally have a piece of equipment anywhere in the United States as a rental piece of equipment to keep a hospital going. We’ve started a lot of exchange programs too. We exchange most of the circuit boards. We actually have exchange programs on the whole monitor. We do exchanges on all of the modules. The idea of a person going to a hospital and fixing a piece of equipment is very expensive when you can call someone on the phone and get a replacement piece in a day.
24×7: You have a national service area then?
Theis: Yes. Most of our repairs are from out of the state of California.
24×7: When you do perform in-house work, is it all in the state of California?
Theis: That depends upon what we’re doing. We will go out and troubleshoot antenna systems all over the United States. You have to take your spectrum analyzer and troubleshoot the system because you can’t bring it in. In those instances, it’s fairly expensive, but it can’t be helped.
24×7: Can you explain the Diamond Choice Certified preowned program?
Theis: We’ve been rebuilding boards and products for so long that we know what parts fail in them. We have a list of all the parts that fail in a product. So when we rebuild a product, we go through and replace all the parts that have the possibility of failing. It’s kind of like going in with a new type of product because all of the failure parts have been replaced. It is not new, but most of the parts on the inside are new.
We also do all of the upgrades that the manufacturer has done. We have the ability to upgrade the software. We’ve sent our technicians to the OEMs’ schools to learn how they do it, and then we purchase the software and have the capabilities to ensure that the product you are getting has the latest software revision in it.
Instead of buying a used piece of equipment that can fail in 1 month, a year, or 5 years, most of our equipment has gone through this program. All of our products come with a 1-year warranty, but we know that they’re going to last at least 5 years because we replace the certain pieces that burn out.
24×7: Does Jet Medical offer any training to biomeds?
Theis: We don’t tell them how to fix the equipment, but we tell them how to troubleshoot. If you have a fetal monitor system, for example, they’re extremely difficult to track down and see what’s wrong with it. Sometimes they’re difficult to set up and reboot, even after the repair. So we try to train the biomeds on how the system works and how to troubleshoot it. And we are always available 24/7. We have a technician on call, so if someone calls in and has a problem with a monitor, we can set up a monitor exactly like they have and go through the troubleshooting procedure right over the phone. It’s our job to help biomeds, and training them on what to do is a big part of our business.
We do not host any classes, though. I don’t know how the liability and insurance would look at that. I think that gets into a different class. It’s not that we wouldn’t sit down with someone and tell him how to do something, but to have a formal class that we charge for, that would be a totally different ball game.
24×7: How closely does Jet Medical work with hospital biomeds?
Theis: Daily. Every day we have biomeds either come in or call us over the telephone. Our technicians are extremely knowledgeable. We can even speak three languages here. We get calls from all over the world seeking advice, and we try to help them as much as we can. Sometimes on the older pieces of equipment, they drag me out because I remember the old stuff. We do have a lot of biomeds locally because we support the CMIA [California Medical Instrumentation Association] and all of the biomed organizations in the area. They’ll come over and say they have a problem. So we have biomeds coming in all the time for advice or help troubleshooting products.
24×7: The CMIA often brings in industry professionals to speak at their meetings. Does Jet ever participate in these or other local biomed association meetings?
Theis: We’ve done several actually. Most of it has been on telemetry—how it works and changes. The big change is when we went from the 400 megahertz to 600 megahertz; we gave several lectures for that all by itself. We have given lectures on antenna systems and troubleshooting. In other words, what the systems are and what the components of the system are. We also have displays at CMIA meetings. Most of the people that work for me are members, and we work very closely with them.
24×7: What do you think are some of the primary issues facing biomeds and the biomedical/clinical engineering industry?
Theis: The biggest single issue is OEM support. A big example: Nobody supplies schematics anymore. You cannot get a schematic for anything. So everything that we fix, we have to reverse engineer. We have to take the board in its manufacturing state and go backward to see what makes it tick and what parts fail. Pretty much all of the boards that we fix right now, we’ve had to reverse engineer.
The other thing is parts. The manufacturers no longer sell parts. In fact, GE doesn’t sell parts at all. You have to order your parts from a company that of course marks it up, so the parts are costing you more.
But the single biggest problem is the lack of support for the biomeds from the OEMs. They charge for tech support now. You call most manufacturers and they charge you for tech support. You have biomeds all over the place that want to fix the equipment and know how to fix the equipment with the manufacturer’s help.
24×7: Is that a strategy to force people into buying new equipment?
Theis: I think that it’s a strategy so that the manufacturers can go into a facility and say, “We do it all. We do the x-rays, the EKGs, the monitoring, the anesthesia machines, and we even do the service.” That’s the only reason that I can come up with. There’s just no one out there helping. It’s also a possibility that it’s just an excessive cost to the manufacturer and it’s cheaper for them to just sell you a new piece of equipment.
24×7: How does Jet Medical help alleviate some of those issues?
Theis: Again, on a lot of the circuit boards, we do the reverse engineering on them. We have our own schematics that we have made ourselves to be able to fix a product. We go out of our way to research the parts that are available and who the manufacturer is. A good example is NIBP pumps. We have one person almost full time researching the manufacturers of the NIBP pumps that people use, because if you buy one from the manufacturer, they charge $400 or $500 for a $30 pump. We do the research end of finding the products and parts. Sometimes we have to actually have parts manufactured.
24×7: What new products or services does Jet have planned for the future?
Theis: We’re going more into module exchanges and complete unit exchanges. That is a significant investment for Jet Medical to do that. We also have obtained the ability to upgrade the modules when they come in so that when they go out, they’re the latest and greatest version. We are looking at doing more exchanges on telemetry transmitters because it cuts down the repair time. But it’s difficult to go out and buy 100 or 200 of these products, which is what you would have to have in stock to start the exchange program. That’s because of the wide variety of products that are available.
We’re also getting more and more into the flat-panel repair because everything is flat panel now. A lot of the flat panels, when they go bad, are repairable. We’re also building up our stock on the new monitors.
24×7: Is there anything else you want to talk about?
Theis: I think that the biomeds of America are smarter because the equipment is getting more complicated. Most equipment is microprocessor- and software-driven. There are several biomed schools in the area that are producing very good technicians, and the military schools are great too. The military schools put out some fantastic technicians.
Chris Gaerig is the associate editor of 24×7. Contact him at .