MedEquip Biomedical, Doral, Fla, has carved out a niche in the physiological monitor industry as a global independent depot repair center, third-party service parts provider, and retailer of preowned, reconditioned patient monitors. Michael Balakonis, the company’s president and cofounder, recently spoke with 24×7 about changes in the industry and how they have impacted the company.
24×7: Have more clients opted for third-party service and preowned equipment with belt-tightening in health care?
Balakonis: Absolutely. Our pricing structure is based on a discount of 40% to 60% less than what the OEM charges. This, and the 1-year warranty we provide, gives hospitals a cost-effective alternative rather than buying new equipment and using the manufacturer for service and parts. Another element—and a disturbing trend—I see is certain manufacturers staring to charge for telephone technical support. MedEquip has a technical support call center staffed by factory-trained technicians that is, and always will be, free of charge.
24×7: How do hospitals stay on the cutting edge of technology if they rely on refurbished monitors and components?
Balakonis: The driving force for hospitals to stay on the cutting edge of technology is to integrate medical equipment with the IT backbone of the institution. Other issues are wireless technology and the never-ending upgrades to the latest release of proprietary software. This is mainly a concern for our company with central processing units (CPUs) and networked patient monitors. We address this by having a core competency in the service of components unrelated to software corruption and the IT interface of a monitor. Working with the manufacturer to perform software upgrades for refurbished monitors allows us to provide cutting-edge technology to hospitals at a substantial savings.
24×7: What is your inventory of patient monitors, and have rentals and sales grown?
Balakonis: We have an inventory of over 3,000 patient monitors. Our rental business has strategically grown over the years to accommodate hospitals seeking long-term rentals. Our sales growth has been steady over the life of the company. Being a provider of mostly high-acuity monitors allows us to focus on specialized areas such as intensive care and telemetry monitoring units.
24×7: How is your industry changing?
Balakonis: The technical aspects of patient monitoring have changed much in the same manner as consumer electronics. Everything is microprocessor driven; flat-panel displays have replaced CRTs; and due to subminiature electronic components, the physical size of circuit boards are smaller. Manufacturers have all but eliminated schematics from service manuals, and the prevalence of multilayered printed circuit boards (PCBs) with surface-mount components has made it nearly impossible for most biomeds to repair. Our electronic lab technicians work with microscopic viewing stations just to replace a single discreet component.
24×7: It sounds like technological advances in equipment have played a role in your company’s evolution?
Balakonis: Technological advances in patient monitoring have been the impetus for us to evolve and overcome technological hurdles. In the arena of electronic repair, the acquisition of automated testing and troubleshooting instrumentation have played a key role in the evolution of our company. Electronic signature analysis and integrated circuit boundary scanning is exactly what the manufacturers use in their facilities. Although a substantial initial investment in such equipment was required, the company can test and troubleshoot the most complex PCBs in minutes. This and the specialized means of reworking microelectronics has enabled us to evolve and will sustain the company long into the future.
24×7: What distinguishes you from your competition?
Balakonis: We are a company of biomedical and technical professionals. A large percentage of our staff is biomedical technicians, electronics techs, or engineers. This gives us a technical advantage over any of the competition, which leads to value-added services, such as a 1-year warranty on most products, and free technical and clinical application support. We also do our best to support the biomedical community through sponsorships of biomedical societies at the state level.
24×7: Where will your company be 5 years from now?
Balakonis: Our strategic growth plans are to establish branch offices overseas. The initial phase is already being implemented as we develop a repair center to serve Central and South America. Next will be Great Britain, with an office in England.
24×7: Do you only take large orders to work directly with manufacturers?
Balakonis: No order is too small for us to work with the manufacturer, most of whom have established multivendor equipment-service divisions. Besides being an ISO 9001:2000 certified company, we also employ former manufacturer representatives and in-house biomedical technicians who have been through the OEM’s service schools. That, coupled with current training on new monitoring products and our system of continuous quality improvement, more than meets the manufacturers’ standards.
24×7: Have you made any additions to your roster of product lines?
Balakonis: Andros is a company that has a diverse range of gas analytical products, many of which are unrelated to medical. The company was looking for a service provider to partner with that could handle the repair of its medical gas product line. This has worked out very well for Andros and our company, while providing hospitals a third-party, cost-effective service alternative. Our business volume for Andros products private labeled for HP and Philips Medical, specifically the M1026A/B analyzer, has grown exponentially.
24×7: What else would you like us to know?
Balakonis: We have just launched a new product line that we expect to generate a great deal of excitement in the biomedical community. We are now repairing the Philips Medical M3001A multimeasurement server. The cost of the depot repair is $750, and this comes with our standard 1-year warranty. On the horizon is the Philips Medical M2601B telemetry transmitter.
Judy O’Rourke is associate editor of 24×7. Contact her at .