Better Service with OEM Support: Illinois Bone & Joint Institute

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Thomas NagelliThomas Nagelli’s philosophy, when it comes to selecting imaging equipment, is a simple one: Service conquers all. Nagelli is director of MRI services at the Illinois Bone & Joint Institute (IBJI), headquartered in Chicago. He says, “In this kind of business, you date the salesperson, but you are married to the service person. After the sale, almost all of your interactions are with the service team.” Nagelli observes that service and maintenance are more important in today’s health-care environment than ever before. “When equipment is down, it’s inconvenient for our referring physicians and our patients, and it hits our bottom line,” he says. “In my experience, the key to keeping the systems running all the time is to have the OEM [original equipment manufacturer] directly service the equipment. If the parts are not readily available, or if the service engineer is not familiar with the equipment and is not solving the problem, we are not serving the patients. Once the system is installed, it’s up to the service team to keep it up and running properly.” Uptime Imperative For those reasons, the uptime promises given by OEMs are taken very seriously by the team at IBJI, Nagelli says. Hitachi Medical Systems, the manufacturer of eight of the group’s MRI systems, kept its promise of 98% uptime—which encouraged IBJI to continue investing in the company’s equipment, Nagelli says. “The eighth system is going live this month,” he notes. “Hitachi promised us 98% uptime, and it has kept it there. Their equipment is very reliable, and it is because of the service the company provides.” For instance, Nagelli says, when he calls Hitachi with a problem, he is immediately connected with the company’s Ohio service center. “You get a live person, and you are not connected to some offshore call center,” he says. “From there, in a short period of time, a service engineer is paged.” He adds that the dispatchers have enough knowledge to solve common problems without making IBJI wait for an engineer. He says, “While they are paging the service person, they help us see if we can resolve the issue ourselves. They try their best to make sure the downtimes are minimized, and their response times are quick.” If on-site service is required, Nagelli says, Hitachi can get the necessary parts there almost as quickly as it can supply a local engineer. “Most of the time, if the system goes down in the afternoon or evening, the parts are flown in overnight, and it’s fixed by the next morning,” he notes. “Hitachi has the parts and the right people available, and the service is Hitachi specific. Most of the time, the engineers get to us within an hour. They really understand that the more downtime we face, the more patients and revenue we lose.” Support Across Multiple Domains IBJI’s experience is reflected in proprietary user-satisfaction trending reports from MD Buyline (www.mdbuyline.com): For the past eight quarters, Hitachi has been rated by users as the number-one vendor of MRI systems. The third-party organization surveys users of imaging equipment across six categories—system performance, system reliability, installation, applications training, service response time, and service repair quality—to arrive at its rankings. Nagelli’s experiences with Hitachi’s MRI service and support have been positive across all these domains, he reports. “Once the magnet is delivered, and the construction crews are finished, Hitachi brings in qualified national technical-support staff to receive the magnet, to make sure it is in its place at isocenter, and to see that all the required connections have been made,” he says. “The support staff tests all the equipment to the manufacturer’s specifications, and also makes sure the coils are well tested, before it is handed over to us.” He adds that with Hitachi, sales and service are closely linked, which ensures that IBJI receives the support that it needs. “Hitachi’s sales force is very much in tune with its service department,” he says. “With some other vendors, once the salesperson got the deal, he or she was done (and off the hook) until the next purchase. That is very unlikely with Hitachi—the employees are responsible, all the way from their dispatcher up to their vice president of service.” As a result, the group has never looked to third-party vendors for service. Nagelli says, “It’s like taking your BMW to the dealership, instead of the garage down the street.” Service Ethic Hitachi’s service philosophy matches that of IBJI, Nagelli observes. “We’re in the service business ourselves,” he says. “We don’t want to inconvenience our referrers or, more important, their patients. When our patient care is compromised, we don’t troubleshoot; we shoot the trouble.” An example of how Hitachi supports IBJI’s service ethic is applications training, Nagelli says. “Our goal is to make the patients very comfortable, and part of that is employing and educating qualified technologists,” he says. “We provide great education for our technologists, and Hitachi has a great educational system; it can fly in an applications specialist to work with them. It’s very important for us to keep our technologists abreast of all the latest updates on the systems and in the industry, and Hitachi provides unlimited educational support.” Having access to the OEM’s full array of support offerings is especially critical in the current health-care environment, Nagelli notes. “Hitachi provides turnkey solutions that are very cost effective, and that is really important in this economy,” he concludes. “For the patients, we can’t afford to have our equipment idle or down for technical reasons. Hitachi provides better, more expedient service, and that is very important to me, as a client, because we are also in the service business.” Cat Vasko is editor of ImagingBiz.com and associate editor of Radiology Business Journal.