Ken Hable

Is there life after EOL for medical imaging equipment?

January 22, 2019
An editorial by Ken Hable

It’s news that may come as a bit of a shock to imaging directors and others in healthcare technology management (HTM). One day, the manufacturer of a key piece of medical imaging equipment in your facility notifies you that the system is about to reach end of life (EOL).

This means you’ll no longer be able to secure a service contract with the OEM to maintain the equipment, and you must pay to get it serviced under “time and materials,” if that’s an option at all. You’re warned that technical support for this model is being phased out and reliable replacement parts could be hard to find.

To ease your concerns, the OEM likely points you towards a newer version of the system. A sales rep may even offer to buy back your old device and give you credit towards the updated model.

But the truth is, EOL does not mean the end for medical imaging equipment. In many cases, these systems can still be a valuable part of your install base, especially if you have a strategy for servicing and repairing the equipment without the manufacturer’s involvement.

A shift in OEM sales strategy
This wasn’t always the way medical imaging equipment manufacturers operated. I remember when many OEMs wanted decision makers in healthcare technology to view the procurement of their products as an investment in something long-lasting and of the highest quality.

Is EOL the end, or can older imaging
equipment continue to provide value?
Yet, while OEMs such as Siemens, Philips and GE still provide top-of-the-line imaging systems, they are much more likely to encourage imaging directors to frequently upgrade their equipment. In fact, the sales cycle is as short as two years. That certainly seems like an awfully brief timeframe for a piece of technology that can cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.

A former colleague of mine, who once worked as a field service engineer (FSE) for a top OEM, recalls a time when his employer focused on profitability by servicing quality equipment so it could maintain an install base in its customers’ facilities. But in recent years, he saw the focus on equipment service diminish. FSEs were cut as the manufacturer expanded its offering, focusing instead on product development with new options coming out each year.

The manufacturers didn’t come to this sales strategy on their own. In many ways, they are simply giving their customers what they desire: the very latest in medical imaging technology.

Many hospitals and imaging clinics want to be able to make the statement that their facilities have the latest and greatest equipment with all the features and enhancements that make them appear to be the most innovative and experienced option for patients in need of imaging services.

Healthcare is an extremely competitive industry, and anything that gives you an edge over the clinic on the other side of town may seem like a major advantage. But deep down, we all know it is the people using your equipment to serve patients that makes the real difference, not the technology.

Examining your options for EOL imaging equipment
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting the latest imaging equipment in your healthcare facility, that strategy may not be feasible for every organization. There are many reasons to keep older medical imaging devices around, even after the OEM stops supporting it.

Avoiding system downtime is crucial for any medical imaging department. A slightly older piece of radiography or fluoroscopy equipment, for example, could serve as an adequate backup for when your main system has an issue requiring service. This ensures you can continue to scan patients uninterrupted, and you won’t lose them to another clinic.

The idea that it will be difficult to service and maintain imaging equipment that has reached EOL is a bit of a falsehood in many cases.
Look beyond the OEM for assistance with service, parts and support for EOL imaging devices.

Think of the automotive world as a comparison. There are many more independent auto mechanics with experience working on 2010 or 2015 models of a vehicle than those who can fix the newest versions on the market. It’s also more likely that there will be a larger supply of affordable parts for those older vehicles.

It works the same way in medical imaging. Independent service organizations likely have imaging engineers who know how to service EOL equipment quite well, and your options for sourcing quality-assurance tested replacement parts from providers with a low DOA rate are also good.

Be wary of OEM sales reps who try to convince you that only their people can service and maintain your imaging equipment. This may be true for brand new systems, but there is a network of capable medical imaging professionals and independent partners who can help you get the most out of your equipment investments.

Some of those people may already be working for your organization. With the right training and access to technical support, biomedical engineering technicians (BMETs) can learn to troubleshoot basic problems and conduct regular preventive maintenance on imaging devices.

The choice is yours to make. You can constantly chase the latest technology, or you can be strategic about when you purchase new imaging equipment. If you take advantage of a network of partners and in-house talent, a good piece of medical imaging equipment could provide value for 20 years or more. There certainly is life after EOL when you have access to trusted resources.

About the author: Ken Hable, MD, BSRT is director of engineering and training at Technical Prospects