By Kevin O’Reilly
Across the country, hospitals and healthcare providers are joining a chorus of biomedical repair technicians (biomeds) calling for the right to repair medical equipment. That groundswell has led to a number of steps forward: The California Medical Device Right to Repair Act, SB 605, passed 9-0 through the judiciary committee on Tuesday, April 27, and is yet to draw a single opposing vote in its two committee hearings. These results show that legislators understand the importance of removing manufacturer-imposed repair restrictions to improving patient safety and reducing the cost of healthcare.
Under SB 605, medical device manufacturers would be required to provide critical parts, tools, and diagnostic materials to hospital and independent biomeds. CALPIRG, iFixit, and the American College of Clinical Engineering cosponsored the bill. The California Hospital Association, which represents more than 400 in-state medical centers, submitted a letter of support. Dignity Health, Sutter Health, Cedars Sinai, and their combined 60 California hospitals also endorsed the bill.
But manufacturer opposition to medical Right to Repair continues to heat up. In addition to a lobbyist from industry group Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed) representatives from Hologic and Medtronic called in to oppose SB 605. Meanwhile, a medical Right to Repair bill in Arkansas cleared the full Senate, although it was held up in the House.
For many of those who repair medical devices for a living, such changes are long overdue. But while these issues have been debated for decades, they came to a head during the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 Reveals Need for Reform
As one biomed told me, the pandemic pressure tested our medical device servicing system and exposed some key flaws. What’s more, a U.S. PIRG survey released in February found that 80% of biomeds reported that they couldn’t service equipment due to “restrictions to service keys, parts, or other service materials,” as COVID-19 cases surged this winter. After all, when a piece of equipment can’t be fixed, it can’t be used to treat a patient.
“The urgency of this issue is clear: When in-house and independent biomeds can’t fix the equipment in their hospitals, patient care suffers. That’s why the “Medical Device Right to Repair Act” is so important, and why our coalition is working so hard to make sure it becomes law,” said California Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman, the author of SB605.
Unfortunately, contending with repair limitations is nothing new. In his testimony before the California Health Committee, Nader Hammoud, a clinical engineering manager at a California hospital network, explained how restrictions have inhibited him throughout his 20 years in the field.
“Multiple times throughout my career, I’ve had to come to the hospital in the middle of the night to try to repair a device that a patient needed for their procedure,” Hammoud said. “We didn’t have days or weeks to wait for a manufacturer to come out and service a device. In such cases, the ability for biomeds to quickly and safely repair critical medical devices can be a matter of life or death.”
Support for medical Right to Repair is not unique to California. In Texas, for instance, Baylor Scott & White Health, the largest nonprofit healthcare system in the state and one of the largest in the country, has also voiced its support for the current medical Right to Repair bill HB2541.
Alongside healthcare providers, several other groups have come to bat for medical Right to Repair since the start of our efforts. When U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon introduced the Critical Medical Infrastructure Right-to-Repair Act of 2020, groups including the American College of Clinical Engineering, the National Rural Health Association, MaineGeneral Medical Center, the International Association of Medical Equipment Remarketers and Servicers, and Color of Change stood behind the senator’s push to eliminate barriers to timely, in-house repairs for critical hospital equipment. From California to Maine, healthcare providers are championing our cause and reinforcing our fight for safer and more efficient patient care.
More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, biomeds shouldn’t still be fighting for their right to repair medical equipment. With several states considering medical Right to Repair legislation, we stand at the precipice of major change that can prevent the further loss of life. The time for our legislators to act is now.
Join Our Call
All our progress is due to biomeds, hospitals, and other experts in the field standing up. You can help us by joining our call for the Right to Repair and asking your doctor and nurse colleagues to sign our healthcare worker letter.
Kevin O’Reilly is the Right to Repair Advocate for U.S. PIRG. Questions and comments can be directed to 24×7 Magazine chief editor Keri Forsythe-Stephens at firstname.lastname@example.org.