Planning for the complexity of obsolescence

Obsolescence is not something that most people think about often. If the concept registers in their consciousness, it’s typically an awareness that, eventually, they’ll have to replace their smartphone or personal computer.
For healthcare professionals — particularly those responsible for keeping capital equipment like sterile processing systems and operating room tables working at a hospital, ambulatory surgery center or clinic — obsolescence poses a much more ominous threat.
If you fail to anticipate it and don’t take action, you can end up watching helplessly as operating rooms go idle and schedulers scramble to move procedures around. You may also have to face the anger and frustration of everyone from care teams to patients and their families.
In some instances, you may be able to find ways to keep obsolete equipment functioning for a limited time. However, those measures tend to be extremely costly. Consequently, healthcare organizations must understand obsolescence and implement processes for addressing it.
Today, in the second in a three-part series of blogs, we’ll discuss how to identify obsolescence in medical facilities.

Four types of obsolescence

Obsolescence occurs when machinery or equipment is “no longer in use or no longer useful.” There are multiple reasons why a facility may choose to stop using a piece of equipment. The four most common are:
  1. Technical obsolescence. This occurs when a piece of equipment can no longer be serviced or repaired due to changes in technology.
  2. Functional obsolescence. An asset is functionally obsolete when parts are no longer available and the manufacturer no longer supports it.
  3. Compatibility obsolescence. In some instances, a piece of equipment still functions correctly, but it can no longer be integrated with other, more advanced devices or systems.
  4. Regulatory obsolescence. Changes to regulations on equipment safety, energy efficiency, etc., can result in equipment being deemed obsolete.
Decision-makers must be proactive about keeping facilities properly equipped and preventing service interruptions.

Three stages of obsolescence

Fortunately for healthcare equipment procurement professionals, obsolescence doesn’t happen overnight. The end of a device’s useful life occurs in stages that vary by equipment type and maker, but typically include:
  1. Notification of pending obsolescence. The original equipment manufacturer (OEM) gives advance notice to equipment owners that they will no longer manufacture a device as of a specified date.
  2. Notification that parts will no longer be available. Even after an OEM no longer produces a device, you can still typically get replacement parts for it for several years. Manufacturers announce the date after which they’ll no longer provide parts.
  3. Notification of equipment “sunsetting.” In most cases, OEMs will specify a “drop dead” date, after which they will no longer provide support or assistance of any kind with old equipment.
OEMs provide these notifications to help healthcare organizations stay ahead of the obsolescence curve. However, you shouldn’t rely on those communications alone. It’s easy in busy environments to overlook these notices or read them but forget to take action.

You can protect your organization from the operational and financial consequences of obsolescence by developing a plan for managing it.

Next: In Part 3 of our series, we’ll talk about the six steps every hospital, surgery center or clinic should take to avoid being bitten by the obsolescence bug.