Hospital repair professionals: Just let us fix life-saving devices like ventilators

Media Contacts
Abe Scarr

State Director, Illinois PIRG; Energy and Utilities Program Director, PIRG

326 technicians call for manufacturers to end proprietary restrictions to repair, are joined by Illinois PIRG and Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs

Illinois PIRG

Illinois PIRG delivered a letter to state legislators and the governor Monday, signed by 326 hospital repair experts, calling for manufacturers to stop withholding what technicians need to fix medical equipment like ventilators. It’s part of Illinois PIRG’s larger Right to Repair Campaign, which aims to remove unnecessary barriers to repair that drive up costs for product owners and increase electronic waste. 

“Keeping equipment working under the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic is a matter of life and death,” said Illinois PIRG State Director Abe Scarr. “This is no time to squeeze hospitals into paying extra for proprietary repairs.” 

Echoing the technicians’ comments, a group of state treasurers, including State Treasurer Michael Frerichs, sent a similar letter to manufacturers calling for them to “release all service manuals, service keys, and schematics during this crisis,” for ventilators. 

“If we can aid our frontline medical personnel, and help expedite keeping devices like ventilators working, we should do so,” said state Rep. Michelle Mussman, 56th district, the sponsor of broad Right to Repair legislation in the Illinois General Assembly. “Our hospitals are working really hard, and deserve that support.” 

COVID-19 is putting incredible stress on our medical system, including the work of hospital biomedical repair technicians, known as biomeds or BMETs. But in some cases, manufacturers restrict access to what biomeds need. For example, as ventilators are pressed into around-the-clock use, repair and maintenance issues increase. While some ventilator manufacturers provide service information, other manufacturers make it hard to access manuals, read error logs or run diagnostic tests.

“This free market ‘right-to-repair’ is the same request others are making for tractors, cars, cell phones, and computers. In these times, the healthcare industry needs these tools to get best value and use of life-saving technology,” said Gary Barkov, Advocate Aurora Health Vice President of Healthcare Technology Management.

“This is very important to patient safety and the delivery of quality care. Access to literature, tools, and training of the equipment owners is paramount to safe future use.” Ken O., an experienced biomedical engineer commented on the letter. 

Manufacturers claim that these restrictions are in place to ensure safety. But in 2018, FDA found third-party repair carries no additional risk and that both they and manufacturers “provide high quality, safe, and effective servicing of medical devices.” Instead of restricting third-party repair, the FDA says “the continued availability of third party entities to service and repair medical devices is critical to the functioning of the U.S. healthcare system.” 

“Restrictions on repair aren’t about safety, as the FDA report shows — everyone who is doing repairs is doing it carefully and safely. These restrictions are about control and about money,” said Abe Scarr.