New medical equipment?!

The Other Side: New medical equipment?!

The banners have been put away, the photo ops are complete, $250 million spent, and our new tower is finished and has been operational for almost four full months. I would like to say that all ofthe new medical equipment installed in the new building is working flawlessly and my department is finally able to take a breath. However, I cannot say that. It seems the present state of medical equipment manufacturing is lacking quality assurance processes.

Our issues are many, but we have been able to resolve or are resolving most. My purpose for pointing this out is when hospitals purchase or consider purchasing refurbished equipment, OEM salespeople like to recall some “incident” when the system failed shortly after installation. They casually forget that it happens to them all the time. I would like to tell you my story about new equipment problems we have had during our first four months.

I do feel it is necessary to point out that some of our equipment problems relate directly to lack of education by users. The combination of the new environment, new people and new medical equipment make for a perfect storm of equipment problems. That being said, these issues would exist in our situation with new or refurbished equipment. I am a little disappointed that the OEMs did not recognize the challenges of learning a new area and new equipment and adjust and/ or expand their training schedule for our users. At any rate, we do accept that as our responsibility and are working through those issues.

In addition to the sales pitch, here are the reasons we selected the new telemetry system: It runs on the new medical grade wireless infrastructure. It will tie easily into EMR, and it can be accessed by any computer with Internet access. The system was designed to operate in a “war room” environment that would consolidate all telemetry operations to one location. Due to this change in workflow, we were nervous about the implementation. We asked to set up a trial system so we could work out our work processes and any bugs. The trial went o.k., but there were some key features we were not able to try because not all of the equipment would be in place until the tower opened. The vendor did setup a “dummy” system to test the additional components so we felt good about the trial.

Now, four months later, this system has required more attention than I could have ever imagined. The good news is I have gotten to know the nurse managers and supervisor on the telemetry unit very well.

I think I am even on the Christmas card list now. Within the first week of operation, we had to return six telemetry transmitters and one main computer. Also as of today there are still features we were told would work (nice to have things) that are still not consistently working. The company is working hard and I now have names and phone numbers of some very important VPs of the company but I would rather not have to know them. My users are so frustrated with the system that they would like to completely remove it and start over. It is getting better, but confidence is hard to rebuild when we have had so many problems.

This is just one specific account of a system that has occupied way too much time. I wish that this was the only one, but there have been many others. From rad rooms, an MRI, washer-decontaminators and the central monitoring system in the emergency department, all of these systems have required intervention by me or my staff, almost immediately out of the gate. I did expect the imaging equipment to have a few issues upon startup, but we had systems down for a couple weeks that required major component replacement before they finally were operational. This new equipment is accounting for almost 50 percent of my team’s troubleshooting time and has caused my alcohol consumption to rise exponentially.

As I think about this situation and what I would change, I am not sure if we would have done too much different. All the companies we used were companies we had experience with and with whom we’d had successful installations in the past. My point is that when people think about using refurbished equipment, there may be the same situation. That the installation will occur and there could be some issues the first couple months with it. Given the examples above, does it make the decision worse than buying new? I would say not, and then if you factor the price difference I think you could argue that considering refurbished first would be smarter.

Jim Fedele, CBET, has been with Medical Dealer magazine for more than 12 years. He is currently the director of clinical engineering for Susquehanna Health Systems in Williamsport, Pa. He can be reached for questions and/or comments by e-mail at info@mdpublishing.com.