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Streamlining equipment maintenance and repair processes presents an enormous opportunity for healthcare facilities to reduce expenses associated with outside technicians.
NgyuenAs the federal government continues to reduce funding from the National Institutes of Health, cut Medicare reimbursement to hospitals, and reduce Medicare payments to hospitals that have high readmission rates, many healthcare facilities are seeking ways to consolidate their bottom lines. When it comes to cutting costs, there are two main routes that executives can take: Examine overlooked areas of the hospital to see where costs can be trimmed, which can include small changes such as improving landscape irrigation and more extreme measures like cutting healthcare providers; or, find ways to pay for operational costs more wisely.
Cutting costs on lighting and other utilities will save cash, but in order to really affect the bottom line executives will need to identify more impactful spending options for vital hospital operations. In 2015, one way many healthcare facilities will look to achieve this is by improving equipment maintenance and repair processes, both in terms of reducing costs and ensuring the long-term reliability of the repaired equipment.
Here are some of my top tips for how to cut costs associated with equipment maintenance and repairs:
1. Use what you have. Healthcare facilities often outsource their equipment support services to ensure medical equipment is always up and running. However, with the assistance of a reliable repair support provider, many simple adjustments and minor repairs could be conducted in-house by clinical engineers already on staff. This presents a tremendous opportunity for healthcare facilities to save money. Executives will not only reduce the expense associated with paying an outside vendor to do their repairs, they will also save costly equipment downtime by eliminating the time it takes for outsourced field service technicians to reach the hospital. As healthcare facilities realize this, more and more will look to empower their clinical engineers to conduct as many repairs in-house as possible in an effort to reduce on-site service calls.
2. Use vendors with remote service options. In response, a more efficient repair process will emerge among third party support vendors. Instead of automatically requesting a technician to the hospital every time medical equipment malfunctions, clinical engineers will look to expert third-party vendors who can offer remote dial-in tech support to help clinical engineers diagnose their own equipment and determine whether a field technician is required to fix the machines or if a simple adjustment that they can conduct themselves will resolve the issue. In terms of industry impact, this implies that outsourced field service teams are likely to shrink and the most competitive vendors will offer 24/7 support by equipment experts who can provide step-by-step assistance so clinical engineers are able to perform service repairs with speed and confidence.
3. Rely more on third-party vendors. Clinical engineers have the option of working with technicians from both original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and trusted third-party repair organizations to maintain the hospital’s equipment. The biggest benefit of working with OEMs is that they set the repair specifications for the whole industry so clinical engineers can be confident that their repairs will be reliable. However, OEMs typically charge more than third-party vendors and traditionally take much longer to complete repairs, which results in costly machine downtime. By partnering with a reliable third party vendor organizations can reduce the total cost of ownership (TCO) on three fronts: reducing the cost of parts, minimizing the opportunity cost of system downtime, and eliminating the need to outsource services. Overall, working with a third-party vendor can save operators as much as 97 percent relative to OEM solutions.
4. Pay attention to warranties and reputations. One concern that clinical engineers may have when working with third-party repair companies is that they might inadvertently make mistakes during the repair process. When parts are not repaired correctly there can be serious repercussions that could compromise patient safety. In order to avoid the repercussions of an incorrectly repaired part, it is important for clinical engineers to authenticate every refurbished part so they can catch flaws prior to installation. This process can be streamlined by finding a trusted third-party vendor that consistently provides high-quality repairs and replacement parts. A good indicator of a company’s service quality is the length of its warranty. Companies with longer warranties provide higher quality parts that last longer. A company’s reputation in the clinical engineering community is also a good way to determine the quality of its service.
5. Ensure equipment is properly maintained. Ensuring that medical equipment is properly maintained in order to realize their useful life is a critical cost-saving opportunity for healthcare facilities. Imaging equipment for example remains the dominant technology in healthcare due to the long useful life of X-Ray, CT and MR equipment, which typically ranges from two to three decades. Given this, it is in the best interest of hospitals to maintain this equipment. The useful life of an ultrasound machine ranges from six to eight years, which is significantly shorter than that of other imaging technology. Due to its safe, non-invasive method to obtain images, the reliance on ultrasound technology is escalating in the healthcare system. In addition, the technology advances more quickly on the software side than on the device side, therefore healthcare facilities should look to save money and extend the life of their ultrasound equipment by retrofitting their old systems with the latest software.
Streamlining equipment maintenance and repair processes presents an enormous opportunity for healthcare facilities to reduce expenses associated with outside technicians. As budget cuts continue to impact the bottom lines of healthcare organizations, new, internal repair processes supported by third-party experts who can help ensure the long-term reliability of expensive medical equipment is a cost-saving solution that will be increasingly embraced by administrators in the coming year.
Larry Nguyen is CEO and CTO of Summit Imaging