By Geoffrey Smith, CBET
It’s a growing trend—and it needs to stop: In the past six months, numerous manufacturers have told me that they no longer offer technical training classes for the equipment they manufacture and sell. Even further, when I told one company that I was already trained on their equipment, they replied that they no longer sell parts for preventive maintenance and repair.
“Repairs and preventive maintenance can only be done by our trained technicians,” one company informed me. How do I want to respond to such companies? I want to say: “How dare you say that you won’t provide training or sell parts to us anymore and that only your technicians are “trained?”
In the U.S. Air Force, I started with 12 people in my class—only five of whom actually graduated. During my four years there, I was trained on more than 117 different pieces of medical equipment and became certified—and I’ve spent the subsequent 20-plus years working as a biomedical technician. And manufacturers are going to call me—along with many of my fellow technicians, some of whom are far greater than me—unqualified to repair their equipment?
Of course, you can stop selling parts to force hospitals to signing contracts. But we can also find competitors who will sell us the equipment and train us, and then you can watch your sales plummet. In certain cases, some companies hold a monopoly on certain types of equipment—and there is nothing we can do about it. But as history is cyclical, there is a day coming when your company will not be “the only one.” Remember the infamous Pet Rock?
This brings me back to the time I worked for a large healthcare organization: One of my fellow technicians went on vacation and I had to cover his area during his absence. Service call after service call came in for his area. When I responded, I found “patchwork” repairs. He would replace the part that was defective, but did not look at the tubing or connectors on the circuit boards. He also did not look at the trending reports in the equipment logs to see the degradation of certain parts.
He was a “trained” technician for this large company, despite never having a formal biomedical education. Instead, he had an electronics degree and worked in an electronic parts store before our company hired him. He was “trained” in fixing the equipment the company sold, but if the company didn’t train him in class, he did not know how or why to test certain things.
To him, it didn’t matter if the tubing was Silastic or Tygon. In fact, I found that he had patched things together with “snips” of tubing. He had no concept of what connectors built up carbon or why he should occasionally “swipe” them to reduce the likelihood of build-up. But, according to some vendors and manufacturers, he was one of the only technicians “qualified” to repair the equipment.
Further, some manufacturers try to scare people into buying service contracts and paying huge amounts of money. When that doesn’t work, they deny us the right to buy the appropriate parts. They also tell us they won’t train us, in an effort to get more contracts sold and parts prices to increase.
Before I go any further, let me clarify one thing: I am not talking about life-support equipment, robotic microsurgical devices, or ventilators. Factually, most of these companies still provide training and sell parts to properly trained technicians. After all, some of these companies have realized it is a win-win to do so. They provide training, at a reasonable cost, and also realize a profit from the parts sold to those trained technicians.
So what types of companies am I referring to? Specifically, companies that sell Xenon light sources, surgical printers, nebulizers, and tourniquets—equipment not sustaining the life of the patient and, in some cases, not even directly related to patient care. Even so, many of these items come to biomedical engineering for repair and are tagged: “Broken, but have another unit to use”.
In other words, there is no patient harm or medical intervention needed. So, the biomed calls the manufacturer to order the part needed for repair and is told: “I’m sorry, we only allow our trained technicians to repair your equipment. You can provide us with a purchase order for $1,000 and send the unit in, or we can dispatch a trained technician to your location.”
The most maddening part? All that is needed is a printer roller, or a light bulb, or a lemo connector for a cable. But the company has a “trained” technician.
I never want to be in a position to tell a large manufacturer: “It’s not my fault that we aren’t buying 54 new pieces of equipment for our surgical department. I told you it would come to this one day. Sorry you lost $600,000 in sales.” After all, profits come and go; CEOs are hired and fired; but reputation and credibility take generations to repair—and they cannot be repaired by so-called “trained” technicians.
Geoffrey Smith, CBET, is a biomedical engineer at Troy, Mich.-based Beaumont Health.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of 24×7 Magazine.