COVID-19 is putting incredible stress on the U.S. medical system, including the work of hospital biomedical repair technicians, known as biomeds or BMETs. These technicians are essential; hospitals need working equipment to diagnose and treat patients. But in some cases, manufacturers restrict access to what biomeds need.
As ventilators are pressed into around-the-clock use, repair and maintenance issues will increase. While some ventilator manufacturers provide service information, other manufacturers make it hard to access manuals, read error logs or run diagnostic tests.
We should remove each and every unnecessary barrier to repairing essential medical equipment, especially ventilators. If manufacturers won’t remove these restrictions, public officials should require them to do so. Restrictions to fixing medical equipment are similar to tactics used by Apple and John Deere to control repair marketplaces, and include:
– Requiring a password or service key to read diagnostic information
– Refusing to provide access to service manuals (some manuals are also password protected, others require an updated service contract to access)
– Designing machines to require calibration software to activate new spare parts, and then not making that software available
– Restricted access to specialty training
In order to determine how widespread repair restrictions are, and the extent to which restrictions impacted work under the stress of COVID-19, U.S. PIRG Education Fund surveyed 222 biomedical professionals. Nearly half reported they had been denied access to “critical repair information, parts or service keys” since March.
Manufacturers claim that these restrictions are in place to ensure patient safety. However, manufacturers also benefit financially by limiting repair, giving them the incentive to cite safety concerns even without data to back up such claims. In addition to higher costs, fewer options can lead to bottlenecks, especially in a time of crisis. Federal regulators should make their own determinations for safe operation of equipment, separate from industry pressure to protect service profit.