43,000 call on ventilator manufacturers to release repair information

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Advocates urge companies to let others fix medical equipment during COVID-19 crisis


BOSTON — The U.S healthcare system lacks an adequate number of working ventilators to effectively treat the expected influx of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) patients. As hospitals put reserve ventilators into service, and put their existing ventilators into continuous use, repair and maintenance issues are life and death issues. However, many manufacturers do not provide access to repair documentation, limiting who can fix the equipment. That discourages third-party medical repair companies or in-house medical engineers from trying to fix things. 

Today, U.S. PIRG delivered 43,000-plus signatures to ventilator manufacturers including GE Healthcare, Phillips, Siemens, Drager, Hamilton, Medtronic and more. 

“Right now, ventilator repair and maintenance issues are life and death issues,” said Nathan Proctor, Right to Repair campaign director with U.S. PIRG, who is leading the petition drive. “Manufacturers of ventilators should immediately release service manuals, service keys, schematics and service keys. Lives are at stake. This is no time to be proprietary.”

Some manufacturers are making socially responsible changes to their repair policies as a result of the pandemic. For example, Medtronic has gone a step beyond releasing its manuals, providing access to certain part design files. However, so many companies have increased their repair restrictions in recent years, that the repair ecosystem is fragile in this time of crisis. 

“We’ve been fighting for our right to repair medical technology since our founding seven years ago,” said Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of Repair.org. “The coronavirus pandemic has proven that manufacturer restrictions on access to repair information and technicians is a recipe for disaster.”

Meanwhile, iFixit, a leading online provider for service information for all kinds of products, is organizing ventilator service information so that technicians can quickly find the information they need. 

“A single hospital might have ventilators made by four different manufacturers and it can be a headache trying to find the right information, so iFixit is trying to help make that easier,” said Kyle Wiens, IFixit.com CEO. “We want to make sure that a technician doesn’t have to hunt for these manuals — every second counts right now.” 

The petition, signed by 43,915 people, and then delivered to 25 ventilator manufacturers, reads: 

U.S. hospitals do not have enough ventilators to meet the spike in cases of respiratory failure that the novel coronavirus is projected to create.

It will become critical to remove barriers to repairing ventilators. Additionally, we may need to repair older reserve ventilators so they can be put into service.

I urge you to immediately release service information — manuals, access to error logs and diagnostic information or other repair resources — for hospital ventilators to help our hospitals combat the coronavirus.

The American Hospital Association estimates 960,000 people will need ventilators over the course of the pandemic. With approximately 170,000 ventilators in the country — some of which need repair to become operational — the shortage of ventilators requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. U.S. PIRG is also calling on the Trump administration to double the ventilator supply, and invoke the Defense Production Act to ramp up manufacturing.

“From removing barriers to repair to ramping up production, there are steps we must take now to maximize ventilator supply and save lives,” said Proctor.