How Instrument Repair Challenges Are Hurting Hospital Economics and Patient Care

Updated on October 27, 2023

Today, U.S. hospitals spend almost $12 billion on endoscopes per year, and that figure is expected to increase to almost $16 billion by 2028. Cystoscopes, bronchoscopes, arthroscopes—these endoscopic instruments can cost $60,000 or more, and they play a vital role in countless life-saving procedures. At the same time, hospitals also spend a small fortune on instruments for robotic surgery, a fast-growing field both in terms of costs and applications. 

These instruments are extremely expensive and extremely advanced, and they should be treated like critical assets when they require service or repair. However, all too often, hospitals have to contend with mediocre repair options and are forced to replace instruments, spending tens of thousands of dollars that could have been avoided with better instrument repair practices.

Hospitals and the healthcare industry at large need to take a closer look at current medical instrument repair and replacement practices. Valuable investments in patient care should not be serviced by an industry that is more focused on short-term profit optimization than improving quality of care. But this is exactly what’s happening in too many instances today. 

Common Problematic Practices Within the Instrument Repair Space

Healthcare providers depend on high-quality instrument maintenance and repair to provide high-quality patient care without going bankrupt. And yet, within this critical area, hospitals rely on an instrument repair industry marred with challenges. 

Here are just a few of the common challenges encountered when it comes to instrument repair:

  • There is no “degree” in instrument repair, which means that there is a lack of technical professionalism. As a result, the quality of repairs is inconsistent.
  • Instrument repair companies rely on replacement parts that are extremely hard to find, which means that devices are often deemed un-repairable or services are delayed.
  • There is a lack of transparency about costs and service delivery. Hospitals often sign contracts and pay invoices without really understanding what was done to the instrument and how long it took to repair it. 
  • Contracts are often based on a capitated amount paid for repair and services. This means that after the repair company has spent a certain amount of hours on a hospital’s repair needs, it has no incentive to repair additional devices and often simply tells the hospital that it has to purchase a new instrument.
  • Finally, the manufacturers of the instruments—large, global instrument companies—tend to offer service contracts that are unrealistically expensive.

In a healthcare space already plagued by skyrocketing costs, the above challenges represent opportunities for improvement. 

Where Improvements in Instrument Repair Can Save Money and Lives

The healthcare industry needs to rethink the instrument repair space and push for changes that could make a tangible difference on both hospital costs and patient outcomes. Here’s where hospitals and the industry at large should be calling for change: 

  • The industry needs to create professional standards for instrument repair technicians and quality systems that are up to par with other healthcare re-use industries.
  • We must create optimal transparency about repair processes, the lifetime cost of an instrument, and cost-benefits associated with repair versus replacement.
  • We must make it possible to repair more types of instruments, including instruments that are currently just thrown away after a certain amount of uses. For example, we need to see a deeper focus on the remanufacture of robotic instruments. 
  • The repair industry must have more consistent access to critical parts used in the repair process. 
  • The repair industry must prioritize customer-focused services, with regular service review meetings, real-time access to information about instruments under repair, advanced instrument identification technology, and fast and reliable repairs.
  • Repair service providers must also guarantee that they will repair all of the hospital’s instruments whenever possible, versus prioritizing repairs only within a pre-determined scope.

The last piece is critically important. Industry-wide, about 10 percent of instruments that go to instrument repair companies for service or repair are deemed un-repairable—even when they’re not. When an instrument is deemed un-repairable, it means that a $2,000 repair all of a sudden turns in to a $60,000 new instrument acquisition. This is simply unacceptable for an industry that plays such a vital role in helping hospitals manage costs and continue to provide proper care to patients. 

Simply put, the instrument repair industry currently is not equipped to play the critical role in healthcare it needs to play. Fundamental changes need to happen to take this industry to the next level. 

Keep in mind: This is not about just repairing instruments. This is about hospital economics and quality of patient care. If a hospital needs to purchase a new $60,000 endoscope, that money must be taken from somewhere else—money that could otherwise be used to hire a new nurse, buy new technology, or add an additional operating room. 

Healthcare economics is a zero-sum game, and instrument services need to contribute to the quality of care—not detract from it. 

Kevin Liszewski
Kevin Liszewski

Kevin Liszewski is CEO of Encore Medical Device Repair.