Imaging equipment service contracts: When is ‘end of life’ a death sentence?

by Gus Iversen, Editor in Chief | August 14, 2015
From the August 2015 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

Facilities with older systems have to continually weigh the pros and cons of their equipment in a paradigm of diminishing returns, says Trueblood. “At some point if you’ve had that system that long, you may not care about accreditation or reimbursement but most people with a facility care about those things.”

Image quality and technological capabilities aside, once a system gets to be a certain age, Trueblood says all of the spare parts available have been repaired so many times they themselves can hardly be compared with the original product. “Take something like a GE ProSpeed CT scanner,” says Trueblood. “There are still a few out there, but in order to get a new tube now you practically have to buy a new tube, which will run you about as much as the machine itself is worth.”

In that way, facilities with older modalities will ultimately always be incentivized to make an upgrade. “The service engineers get older, too,” he says, “but even the servicing knowledge is less of an issue when you simply don’t have the parts to fix it.” For those very old modalities, end of life takes on a more literal meaning and Trueblood says the best thing BC Technical can do is help to uninstall the equipment. For ITC, Greb notes a modest silver lining. “We could always scrap something for money,” he says. “Separate the boards from the other metals and the cabinets and that type of thing — just send it off to recycling.”

What’s under the hood?
Reimbursement-altering legislation like XR- 29 will factor into a facility’s decision-making process, but so will the cost of contracts available for equipment. Is it ever worthwhile to service an older system in spite of lower reimbursement? Not for everyone, but probably for some.

If so, can the ISO you’re working with make any guarantees about the availability of parts, engineer experience, and a track record of dependability? The medical imaging industry loves its car analogies, and the difference between a lemon and a “classic” MR or CT scanner has less to do with the miles on it than the quality and consistency of its maintenance.

For Gonzalez, good decision-making starts with learning what to look for and building up the in-house education. “One thing I’ve learned in all my years in this business is that you’ve got to get down and learn as much as you can,” says Gonzalez. “You’ve got to try to resolve as much as possible in-house before you start calling on outside help, and that’s what I’ve done.”

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