An advocacy group urges legislators to ensure that hospitals can repair their own equipment – based on a survey of more than 200 medical professionals. The US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) has has released a new report on the impact of “right to repair” rules on medical professionals, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. It is concluded that a lack of clear rules makes it more difficult to repair vital medical devices sustainably, even if many manufacturers are not acting maliciously.
The PIRG report examined 222 biomedical professionals, many of whom work in hospitals. Nearly half said they were denied access to necessary repair parts and information during the pandemic. And almost everyone said that removing the restrictions on repairs was “critical” or “very important” for their job.
According to the survey, manufacturers often limit third-party repairs. About 92 percent of respondents said their service information about equipment such as fans and defibrillators was declined, and about half of those people said it happened “somewhat often.” About 89 percent said manufacturers had refused to sell spare parts.
Since the pandemic hit the U.S. in March, about 29 percent of respondents working with fans say they have devices they can’t use because they don’t have parts or information, and in general, about 49 percent of survey members said that they had been denied access to “essential repair information, parts or service keys” for any type of medical equipment. Many professionals reported issues such as finding service manuals unofficially online, and some manufacturers have issued removal statements to sites that host them.
There are several benefits for third party repairs. Parts and maintenance costs can be cheaper than what the manufacturer would charge. And perhaps most importantly, hospitals can quickly repair equipment themselves or with the help of an independent technician, rather than waiting for an official business expert. (With the corona virus limiting travel, that’s even more important now.) Manufacturers can adopt best practices, including sharing product manuals and making training accessible and affordable, as well as providing wide access to spare parts. But the survey suggests that this often doesn’t happen.
Manufacturers can provide a number of reasonable arguments for setting high standards for technicians: having strong certification and training programs, for example, reduces the chance of poor repair. But one Food and Drug Administration 2018 report found that third-party repairs were largely safe and effective – and at the moment they are vital. PIRG calls on the FDA to have manufacturers provide service information and the Federal Trade Commission to verify that certain restrictions are considered anti-competitive behavior. There will also be more than 300 hospital repair experts in May signed a letter to legislators who request rules for restorative justice.
Several states have proposed laws that would allow manufacturers to remove barriers to third-party repairs, and Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders also supported the rules for the right to repair during their campaigns. (Copyright can also make repairs difficult, but exceptions have alleviated the problem.) But most haven’t come very far except for a promising account in Massachusetts. Much of the conversation also focused on automotive and automotive electronics. But the pandemic has made hospitals a much bigger part of many people’s lives – bringing to the fore a longstanding problem.