8 Tips for Managing Medical Equipment Software Updates and Upgrades

Demystifying software updates and upgrades
How would you define a medical equipment software update? How about a software upgrade? Answering these questions isn't so simple – it's difficult to define software updates versus upgrades because the answer varies based on the industry source, the type of device and the subjective description of the changes involved with each. But it's incredibly important that we understand these terms, because the difference between an update and upgrade could mean many thousands of dollars spent — or saved — for your organization.

8 tips for managing medical equipment software updates and upgrades

1. Negotiate up front.
Before an equipment purchase, be very clear with vendors about what updates and upgrades are included. If possible, negotiate for all updates, software keys and codes to be included over the life of your equipment.

2. Only buy what you need.
It often does not make financial sense to purchase software upgrades in advance, and therefore you should not include them as part of a service contract. When you purchase upgrade options in service contracts, you are purchasing software that does not yet exist, and may never exist (sometimes called "vaporware".) It's often best to wait for the upgrade to be created, and then evaluate its specific worth to your organization. Specialty devices are sometimes the exception to this rule, those that have well- documented past schedules of frequent valuable upgrades, which would result in a greater cost to purchase each upgrade individually as opposed to the contract coverage option.

3. Research before purchase.
Upgrades can be large purchases, often many thousands of dollars each. Prior to upgrading, be sure it's right for your organization and situation. Consider the age of your current equipment, the cost of the upgrade, your upgrade history, as well as the contract options. If a contract option is to be considered, it's important to get the upgrade schedule in writing from the manufacturer before the purchase.

4. Work closely with your IT/IS department.
Anti-virus program issues are one of the biggest challenges Clinical Engineering departments face today on computer-based medical devices. Running an after-market anti-virus program on a medical device could potentially alter the function of the device and needs to be researched with the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) before installation. This is one of the areas Clinical Engineering and Information Technology departments must work together. Many times one department doesn't fully understand the intentions or impact of the other, so open communication is necessary. A close partnership with IT will help you remain proactive in managing critical equipment, stay in compliance, and improve Environment of Care standards in your specific clinical environment.

5. Keep detailed records (including downtime).
Track information in your CMMS to analyze the service history, and leverage it for future purchase and upgrade discounts. Be sure to track system downtime (one Indiana-based healthcare company successfully negotiated a reimbursement from their manufacturer based on downtime), as well as the time in-house technicians invested in troubleshooting equipment issues; you may be able to use this data in future negotiations.

6. Follow back-up procedures.
It is highly recommended that you back up your current system before an update or upgrade is installed. That way, if the system fails you can re-install from the backup which includes configuration information (as well as prior updates and upgrades) that would be missing from an original installation disc re-build, minimizing downtime. Many computer backup options exist, and this is another key area in which to partner with your IT/IS department for additional savings. However, it is imperative that the original software installation disks, as well as the disks needed to install prior updates and upgrades are all retained on-site. Replacement disks will often cost as much as the original purchase.

7. Remain compliant.
Though OEMs should let your facility know about alerts, hazards and recalls that may necessitate an update, it's good to be proactive in seeking out this information to help ensure patient safety. MedSun Medical Product Safety Network on the FDA website is a great resource to use as well as the ECRI Institute.

8. Partner with an independent consultant. When making equipment purchases that may include future updates and/or upgrades, make sure you have the right people at the decision-making table. Inviting an independent consultant to be part of your capital equipment project ensures that no one particular party moves too quickly without a proper review of the purchase and that everyone's interests and needs are taken into account prior to the final decision.

James Jernigan is a regional director for TriMedx, an Indianapolis-based medical equipment services provider and consultant. With more than 15 years experience in clinical engineering, Mr. Jernigan rose from engineer to clinical engineering director of a large health system within a few short years of his professional career. Skilled with a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from Texas A&M University, Mr. Jernigan joined TriMedx in 2002. Today he serves as regional director for TriMedx where he is responsible for more than 18 clinical customer sites. James also leads development of nationwide training programs for more than 500 TriMedx technical and clinical engineering associates to share best practices, enhance client relationships and streamline medical equipment management.

Learn more about TriMedx.

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