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Does support for legacy donations prepare the world market?

December 14, 2009
by Paul Keough, TurnKeough
This report originally appeared in the November 2009 issue of DOTmed Business News.

When technology ages, hospitals may find it advantageous to write-off such legacy equipment as a donation rather than try to sell it. Donations can be arranged by working with recognized organizations, such as International Aid, which helps collect and distribute "old" equipment. Of course, an old system for some is a brand new system for others. Even if it has been used previously, donated medical equipment can often be repaired and refurbished giving a greatly extended operating life. In fact, more U.S. hospitals and health care facilities are looking at refurbished equipment as options to meet their needs and the used equipment market is doing very well. The future, however, lies in the international market, but only if those prospective customers can be won over with support.

The issue of support is important enough that the World Health Organization (WHO) has made an effort to track the issue. The WHO also addresses the subject within its equipment donation guidelines. There is good reason for this. For example, a piece of legacy equipment could show up in a container at a hospital in Africa. Although the clinician may appreciate the gesture, without the support to stand behind the donation, it never really becomes anything more than a kind, if misguided gesture - and a potentially lifesaving piece of equipment collecting dust.

If however, that same equipment is supported with any spare parts and needed training, the donated equipment begins to mean much more. For training, it can be as simple as making sure any needed manuals are provided, to online support, or even better - paying to fly a clinic's tech to a location for training, or sending out an engineer to get the equipment working and to offer hands-on, monitored training, which is really invaluable. Adding those factors greatly increases the likelihood that the legacy equipment will be used, and will be a positive factor in providing needed medical care. To make sure it's continued to be used, upgrades (when applicable) and continuous customer support are needed.

If proper training and support isn't provided, there's an additional negative factor that may arise. Having an unusable piece of equipment is likely to create frustration for the recipient. Chances are that frustration will end up being equated with that particular machine - or that particular brand. If the clinic ends up with income to purchase a new machine, or the doctor at the clinic moves to a new clinic with the ability to purchase a machine, they may be soured on that particular manufacturer. Obviously, the opposite holds true too - create a positive experience and offer training and there's a greater likelihood they'll continue using the products offered by that OEM.

An important thing to consider is what the proper level of support is for the equipment you're donating. An ideal donation doesn't end when the equipment leaves your site. A risk/reward calculation has to be made. Data should be collected in the field (or possibly gathered from others who have already had experience) to assess what changes are needed for updated equipment. Some level of customer support and training should be maintained for legacy equipment, but it will differ depending on the complexity of the equipment. Feedback on the long-term continued use of legacy equipment could prove valuable. The feedback could be obtained from clinical staff including nurses, technicians and support staff. Obviously, the more familiar that staff is with the equipment, the higher the quality of feedback and marketing information gathered.

How so? International markets, even developing nations, will be future customers of both new and used equipment. Market preparedness, in the long run, is just smart business, as a method of capturing future markets that could in the end result in a high return on investment while doing what health care companies ultimately should be doing - providing health care.

Paul Keough, PhD, MBA is the President at Turnkeough Corporation ( You can reach Paul at