Discount Surgical Equipment Maintenance: It’s No Bargain!

by Mark T. Agerton, Northeast Georgia Health System

“It is unwise to pay too much, but is is worse to pay too little. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot. . . . it can’t be done. When you deal with the lowest bidder, it is wise to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better!”- John Ruskin (1819-1900)

This simple, but astute observation was written in the late 19th century, however it is as true today as it was then. The surgical equipment repair industry is full of companies who claim to offer discount or flat rate service, when in reality their “discounts” can add up to big trouble and even bigger expenditures.

Picture this unfortunate, but not uncommon, true story.

A pneumatic wire driver breaks down and you send it to a reputable repair service who gives you a repair estimate of $600.00. Having done business with them in the past, you ordinarily would approve the repair. But just recently, a new repair company salesman promised they could fix all your power equipment for a flat rate of $375.00, no matter what the damage.

Sounds good, right? So you send it off to the new company who calls you after a few days to tell you the wire driver is “non­repairable!” That’s puzzling, since the first repair company had already told you it could be repaired for $600.

You need the wire driver back in service and so you return it to the original repair company and approve the original quote.

Now the plot thickens. When the first repair company reopens the driver, it is discovered that five major parts are now missing from the unit! Because they had opened and evaluated it originally, they know that all the parts had been intact. Since Company #2 never knew that the driver had been previously examined, they assumed the hospital would just accept their word that it couldn’t be repaired, and buy a new unit. Instead, they got caught red-handed stealing parts!

The question becomes then, why would a repair company steal parts instead of simply performing their repair to make a profit?

The answer is as simple as it is unbelievable. They never had any new replacement parts to begin with, so by scavenging five perfectly good parts from this driver, it enables them to complete five other repairs on five other drivers for five other customers! No wonder they can offer great, but unrealistic flat-rates!

As unbelievable as it sounds, it’s happening everyday and not just with power equipment, but with scopes and other instrumentation as well. And it’s not just one company who’s doing it and getting away with it. There are literally dozens of under-capitalized, fly-by-night, so-called repair companies who are running this or similar scams, trying to make a fast buck at our expense. At least one of them is in your back yard.

And it’s costing us big-time! The updated quote to repair that driver was $1800.00!

This is only one example of cons and incompetents that plague the industry. Lew Tracey, National Repair Center Supervisor for Mobile Instrument Service and Repair says, “We encounter situations such as these virtually every day.” Endoscopes being cannibalized of their expensive lenses; fiber optic scopes being sealed with tub and tile caulk; we recently spent a week at a Texas hospital that had decided to ‘give a new van repair guy a chance because he was so inexpensive.’ He had done so much damage to their entire inventory of instruments that we couldn’t salvage all of them, and many had to be replaced! It cost the hospital much, much more in the long run.”

The surgical equipment repair industry has become a muddied marketplace and so, it’s Buyer Beware! You could be being ripped off by illegitimate “vendors” who offer abnormally low-cost or “flat rate” repair prices. It is critical that you know the reputation and the history of the company to whom you trust your hospital’s expensive equipment!

These are all questions you would demand a response to on any bid equipment that would cost you as much as $20,000. Look at your repair expenses over the last 2 years and ask yourself if you can continue to ignore these expenses.

Don’t be a victim. You’ve already made an enormous investment in the inventory that is entrusted to your care. One would be penny-wise and pound-foolish to believe that any John Doe who decides to set up shop can repair sophisticated equipment such as this.

It takes investment capital and technical expertise to operate a legitimate repair business. Unfortunately, even reputable repair companies can be tarred with the same brush, because these “fly-by-nighters” give everyone a bad name. But don’t be fooled by the charming “Mom & Pop” exterior of a startup company. Your assets are simply not worth the risk.

Caveat emptor! Buyers beware! Protect your valuable surgical equipment from these opportunists who will not only give you poor quality repairs, but could render it useless if they’re incompetent or if the equipment happens to contain parts they can cannibalize.

As educated consumers, we should know by now that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, yet we continue to fall into that “bargain-hunter’s” trap. We must be as diligent with the selection process for repairs as we are in selecting the instruments themselves.

Dealing with an honest, reputable repair company is a decision one never has to defend.*

Make Prospective Vendors Pass This Test for Integrity and Capability:

*Reprinted with permission of Georgia Scroll Magazine, July 1998