Amid COVID-19 Pandemic, Hospitals Usually Can’t Fix Their Own Ventilators

Amid COVID-19 Pandemic, Hospitals Usually Can’t Fix Their Own Ventilators

ILLINOIS (IRN) — Phones, cars, tractors, and other products are getting so technologically advanced that buyers are no longer able to fix them and even f they did, doing so would often void the product’s warranty. 

Whether a company like Apple or John Deere should allow others to fix their products has long been a topic of debate. But what about a ventilator?

Should a manufacturer be the only one to repair the machine that’s been proven critical in keeping patients infected with COVID-19 alive? Should others be able to repair it, assuming they can do it correctly? 

The Illinois Public Interest Research Group, along with the larger national organization PIRG, is calling for states to reduce restrictions on repair for hospitals during the pandemic. 

“Making sure our hospitals have what they need to keep devices like ventilators running should be a no-brainer. This is a problem that Gov. Pritzker and state lawmakers can fix,” Director of Illinois PIRG Abe Scarr said.

They say in their campaign literature that original equipment manufacturers, or OEM’s, and hospital-based biomechanical equipment technicians, called BMET’s, need to have a more collaborative relationship.

State Rep. Michelle Mussman, D-Schaumburg, has legislation with bipartisan support that would restrict what some manufacturers can keep to themselves, product manuals for instance.

“If we can aid our frontline medical personnel, and help expedite keeping devices like ventilators working, we should do so,” said Mussman. “Our hospitals are working really hard, and deserve that support.” 

Five state treasurers, including State Treasurer Michael Frerichs, sent a letter to manufacturers calling for them to “release all service manuals, service keys, and schematics during this crisis,” for ventilators. 

“In some instances, service contracts have forced hospitals to wait more than a week for a manufacturer’s technician to service equipment. Hospitals are forced to take their own safety measures, disallowing external technicians to enter their facilities, at the risk of more people coming into direct contact with the coronavirus,” the letter said.

Emails to Philips Healthcare and Becton Dickinson, two of the largest manufacturers of ventilators in the world, were not returned as of Monday. 

Public health officials in Illinois didn’t give any indication about how often ventilators break down but a survey of more than 200 BMET’s found nearly half said they had been denied access to replacement parts and information during the pandemic. 

The issue, as right-to-repair advocates say, is the financial incentive in aftermarket repairs.

“They want to get hospitals to buy repair service contracts from the manufacturer,” said Nathan Proctor, U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Right to Repair Campaign Director and one of the authors of the report. “Manufacturers typically charge much more for repairs than if the hospitals hire a third party or train their own technicians — but more costs aren’t the only price of proprietary repair. Delays in getting equipment running put patients at risk. We need to stand up and help our hospitals right now. One easy thing we can do is to remove barriers to fixing life-saving medical equipment. It’s no time to be proprietary.”

Hospital executives blame the rising cost of health care partly on these service agreements. 

“Everybody knows how expensive health care is and this is one of the reasons,” said Sam Jacques, vice president of Clinical Engineering at McLaren Health Care in Michigan. “A normal contract for these vendors who don’t provide any ability for us to maintain those devices generally charge somewhere between ten and twenty percent of the cost of the device.” 

A representative of the Illinois Health and Hospital Association said the association supports the push for the ventilator repair issue calling on manufacturers to release proprietary repair manuals, service keys, schematics and repair software. 

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