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Rural hospitals require better 'end of support' equipment solutions

By Robert Kerwin

In some cases, hospitals and healthcare providers receive medical device obsolescence notices simply because the software for the reporting printer is outdated.

One provider was recently advised by a manufacturer “[a]s that technology [device] has aged, components have become harder to maintain or obsolete; including the Window XP operating system, which is no longer supported by Microsoft.” Though the manufacturer acknowledged a willingness to continue to provide servicing and parts support (based on availability) for a limited time, they also indicated that new or renewed service agreements would be “accepted at the discretion” of the manufacturer.
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This ‘discretion’ can be a hospital budget buster, as new equipment costs, depending upon the modality, may run from $260,000 to $1,800,000 or more.

According to a recent Navigant study, nearly one in five rural hospitals in the U.S. are at high risk of closing. These hospitals are crucial to the health and economic success of communities, and 'end of support' equipment issues can be a contributing factor to the continued viability of rural hospitals. System downtime, software upgrade costs. and loss of technical support can have a dramatic impact on rural hospitals. Yet some of the imaging equipment for which a notice has been received regarding 'end of support' may still be able to meet ACR standards for image quality.

Nancy Godby, director of radiology at Cabell Huntington Hospital, notes that while Cabell Huntington is fortunate to be in a position to purchase new imaging equipment, some rural hospitals are not so fortunate. “Some of the smaller hospitals in rural communities may have facilities that are crumbling," she said. "If these smaller hospitals close, it will be difficult, particularly in the winter months, for some patients to make the trip to another hospital.”

Fortunately, some manufacturers have attempted to assist their customers by offering permanent service keys and training their customers. Mike Powers of Christiana Healthcare has had experiences concerning "end of support" equipment issues with OEMs that were collaborative and helpful.

"We have systems that have aged gracefully, and continue to serve in an accredited diagnostic manner. The relationship we have always had with those OEMs meant that as the systems aged, access to service keys and schematics was not an issue, due to our ability to purchase factory training when the systems were new," said Powers, who credits that cooperation, in part, to the resources available to his facility, and stresses that cooperation across all manufacturers is not consistent.
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