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We have a policy in place that requires a service manual with all new equipment purchases to ensure that we have everything we need to be able to service the equipment properly. We make sure the manual has preventative maintenance (PM) procedures and frequencies listed so we can include them in our computerized maintenance software. The instance I am going to share with you is about how we thought we had everything in place only to be blindsided by the OEM two years later with a $2,500 charge for a PM procedures not included in the manual.

This story starts with an email from a salesman trying to sell me a service contract on an insufflator/smoke evacuator combo unit. The unit is not overly complex. It uses fancy and expensive disposables, but not anything we haven’t handled before. I cordially declined the offer and went about my day. The salesman again requested that we purchase a service contract and he gave me a list of reasons, one of which was a recommended two-year PM to restore the equipment to like new condition. Again, I declined the service stating that we had the manual and could complete anything we needed on our own.

“We followed the manufacturer’s recommendations to do the PM, and the device passed all the PM tests. However, the unit was not functioning optimally.”

I felt like this salesman was rather insistent about the PM procedures, I asked my technician to look over the PM procedures and talk to the customer about any problems they might be experiencing. My technician went through the PM procedures to ensure the unit would pass all the tests, afterward she spoke to the customer and they told her they weren’t experiencing any issues. At this point, I considered the issue resolved.

A few months later, the salesman stops in my office to once again lobby for the service contract. He proceeded to explain that the unit was not working as it should and said the doctor is unhappy. I told him that we had not received any complaints about the unit. I also told him that we were following all the procedures in the manual and that the machine was functioning perfectly when we checked it two months ago. At this point, I was becoming quite irritated. I told him I would have my technician work with the physician to figure out what the problem was and how to rectify it.

My technician checked the unit again, she showed me the steps listed in the manual to do the PM and the unit passed all of them. She spoke to the physician who said the unit was working fine but not quite as good as it used to, at times there was a little smoke build up in the abdomen. My tech called the company and started working with tech support to solve the problem. I was shocked when my technician came to me and told me that the unit needed to be sent in. She found out that they recommend sending the unit in every two years for a “refresh” or full PM. They told my technician that the equipment needed to calibrate the unit was not available in the field and that the unit would have to be sent to Germany to be serviced. They told her this recommendation is listed in the manual. After carefully combing through the manual we found one line at the bottom of a page, which stated they recommend sending the unit in to the factory every two years. Apparently, they don’t think we have qualified people in the U.S. who can service this type of equipment.

In the end, we did not purchase the three-year $22,000 service contract. We opted to send the unit in and pay the $2,400 for the two-year PM. This situation angers me on many levels, but misrepresenting the PM procedures is the highest. I feel like it is somewhat of a safety issue as well, in good faith, we followed the manufacturer’s recommendations to do the PM, and the device passed all the PM tests. However, the unit was not functioning optimally. From a financial standpoint the unit cost of this device is rather low (less than $10,000). A lot of the money is made on disposables, and now we have to pay $2,400 every two years. I am hopeful that the clinical outcome is worth it.

I know that when you consider a maintenance and repair budget of a few million dollars saving $2,400 is barely noticeable. But, I feel like this trend of creating equipment that does not have field serviceable PM tasks could be the demise of our careers.

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 email at editor@mdpublishing.com.