In the current health care context, after-sales service plays a vital role while buying any large medical equipment. It is the biggest influencer for a clinician while deciding to invest on equipment. For any health care provider, turning away patients is undesirable and one of the causes of this situation is machine breakdown. This is especially critical in high-end machines like a CT scanner, MRI system, cath lab or a laboratory automation system.
How quickly a machine can be up and running was a concern of the past. Today's question is—how well in advance would a clinician know about the problem with his system. The sheer possibility of getting a pre-alert of a fault is a game changer. This is digitalisation in service.
Remote access has become part of today’s connected world. It is used reactively as well as proactively. In the reactive mode, it is used to fix problems when the customer reports an issue. In the proactive mode, the equipment keeps relaying deviation in performance to the server, which is monitored by technical experts of the equipment company.
When an alert pops up at the customer's site, the service team of the medical equipment company is also alerted. Sitting in Mumbai, they can access an MRI system in Coimbatore and guide the technician on what the alert means and what needs to be done. So, a potentially major crisis can be averted by remote access. And, the hospital or diagnostic centre would not have to cancel any appointments. If a spare part needs replacement, it can be ordered by the centralised service station and an engineer can be assigned to visit the site to replace the part.
Sometimes, the problem in the machine cannot be solved remotely. A service engineer is then assigned to visit the site. This may take time, right? Not necessarily. In a typical global scenario, field service engineers have a device, similar to a mobile phone, with a fancy app that informs them of the next site to be visited. A particular engineer is assigned the job because the same app exists in the back office, and it shows every field engineer’s location and by when they will be free. So, the engineer closest to the site is assigned the job. This technology has arrived in India as well.
Once there, the engineer analyses the problem. He either fixes it or confirms replacement of a spare part. If it is the latter, he checks the availability of the part in the local warehouse using the app on his device. He orders the part through this app and tells the customer how much time it will take for the spare part to arrive and the machine to be up.
In this case, the customer may have to shuffle his patient appointments. However, he would be happy with the transparency. Some years ago, he might have had to continuously turn away patients, as there was no clarity on when the machine would be fixed. This would have affected revenue and also his reputation, especially among his referrals.
If pre-alerts are received and problems are fixed remotely, about 40 per cent of medical equipment require no downtime.
Richard Guest is CEO, Siemens.