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Hospitals Battle Medical Equipment Makers Over Critical Repairs

Ventilators and other high tech-medical equipment are critical in treating patients with the COVID-19 virus. But how quickly can they be fixed when they need repairs? (Nenov Brothers/Adobe Stock)
Ventilators and other high tech-medical equipment are critical in treating patients with the COVID-19 virus. But how quickly can they be fixed when they need repairs? (Nenov Brothers/Adobe Stock)
July 10, 2020

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Hospitals struggling with a spike in COVID-19 cases say they're also battling the manufacturers of medical equipment, like ventilators and CT scanners, over who has the right to repair them.

An Arizona Public Interest Research Group Education Fund study claims the current system of manufacturer-only repairs is increasing health-care costs and putting patients' lives at risk.

Nathan Proctor, director of Arizona PIRG's Right to Repair Campaign, says at any given time, almost one-third of ventilators and other devices in hospitals are idle, awaiting repairs.

"This is an issue that does affect Arizonans," says Proctor. "Especially now at the center of a surge in COVID cases, these hospitals are going to need some extra support. "

Proctor says manufacturers often void the warranty if hospitals try to repair their devices, and sometimes take hours or days to complete needed repairs.

Most manufacturers say their policy is designed to ensure patient safety.

Proctor disagrees, pointing out that exclusive contracts can double or triple the repair costs. He cites an incident at one hospital where delayed repairs put a patient's life in jeopardy.

"They had their CT scan go down, and they had a car crash victim come in," says Proctor. "And they could not do a scan to determine whether or not there were internal injuries. So, yes, this is a life-threatening problem."

Two-thirds of the more than 200 biomedical professionals polled by PIRG say the right to repair their own equipment is a major issue in performing their duties. Proctor says it's also a significant driver of health-care costs.

"I think ultimately we, the people," says Proctor "the patients, the American public - are paying for a system which is inefficient and overly expensive."

PIRG's Right to Repair Campaign works with states to ban manufacturer restrictions, but no bill has been filed yet in the Arizona Legislature. Proctor believes that in the pandemic, the FDA and state governors should issue orders to allow qualified staff to repair critical equipment.

Disclosure: Arizona PIRG Education Fund contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Consumer Issues, Energy Policy, Urban Planning/Transportation. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ