How Does Refurbished Biomedical Equipment Compare with New Assets?
The refurbished medical equipment market is growing, fueled by increased pressure to increase device inventories due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the rapid expansion of the healthcare market itself. The global refurbished market, valued at $495.46 billion in 2022, is expected to grow at a 5.5% CAGR, reaching $718.92 billion by 2029.
The word “refurbished” understandably still causes some skepticism for many hospital equipment managers. But does a “never buy refurbished” policy really mean safer patients? Can hospitals truly count on refurbished biomedical devices to deliver high-quality medical services?
Hesitant buyers should know refurbished devices can reliably provide safe, effective clinical care, just like new machines. Acquiring refurbished assets frees up dollars that budget-conscious and cash-strapped hospitals can redirect towards other priority concerns, such as staff shortages and limited drug and supply inventories.
To reap those benefits, decision-makers need to understand how to properly compare new and refurbished assets. This post discusses some basics that can help buyers evaluate a potential refurbished equipment purchase.
What’s the difference between used and refurbished?
The terms used and refurbished describe two categories of previously-owned medical equipment. Typically, buying used devices means accepting the equipment “as is.” A used machine may already have spent several years on the floor, so the buyer should expect the type of damage and repair requirements as any device purchased new that has reached the same point in its lifecycle.
Refurbished equipment is usually purchased, shipped, then returned by the first owner due to product defects. The duration of use varies; often, usage is minimal.
To label a device “refurbished,” FDA guidance states it must be “like new,” and any restoration repairs or replacement components must not change the device’s performance, safety, or intended function. OEMs and many other refurbishers provide a certificate indicating the equipment has passed tests and meets all original specifications.
Comparing new and refurbished medical devices
Gaining confidence around a potential refurbished equipment purchase requires a comparison between refurbished devices and new assets across these primary vectors that concern hospital clinical, technical, and administrative staff.
By some estimates, buying refurbished devices can reduce medical equipment costs by 20-30%. That’s extremely appealing to decision-makers feeling the pressure of lean capital budgets. However, a lower ticket price on refurbished assets doesn’t mean automatic savings compared to new devices.
The total cost of acquisition depends on many factors, such as:
- Vendor trustworthiness
- Equipment age
- Device model
- Restoration process
- Rigor of verification testing
Buyers must take care to evaluate each of these to make a meaningful cost comparison between new and refurbished assets.
Quality assurance testing performed during manufacturing assures that all new devices are built as specified when the FDA originally cleared the product design for market.
To meet original specifications, refurbished devices must pass the same QA tests as new equipment. Refurbished device quality is directly connected to the restoration process, which may include:
- Comprehensive cleaning and decontamination
- Condition check to identify malfunctioning components
- Repairs and/or parts replacement
- Functional testing
- Cosmetic refurbishment (restoring component appearance, new paint)
A refurbisher that uses experienced BMETs, advanced testing equipment, and high-quality replacement parts can restore medical devices to like-new conditions.
Decision-makers can have confidence in devices refurbished and certified by the OEM. But there’s no standardized certification process for other refurbishers. This means the buyer should ask plenty of questions about the restoration process, QA procedures, and any 3rd-party tests performed.
Many refurbished assets come with a warranty, but the duration and coverage may not be as long or comprehensive as those of new devices. Buyers shouldn’t hesitate to compare the new and refurbished warranty terms side by side as part of the evaluation process.
OEMs typically perform repairs, provide tech support, and sell replacement parts for new and refurbished devices. Other refurbished equipment vendors may or may not offer the same support. That might not be a dealbreaker, provided the buyer can access these services easily and affordably. Research 3rd-party support partners, and be sure to include service and repair spending when comparing the total cost of refurbished and new assets.
As long as device components haven’t been discontinued the OEM can provide replacements. But unfortunately, OEMs aren’t known for their fast turnaround times–and that’s because they tend to have many parts on backorder.
Purchasers should either work with a refurbisher who contracts with a 3rd-party parts manufacturer that meets or exceeds OEM level quality or research ways to access such parts themselves before making the final decision.
A trustworthy refurbisher with robust QA ensures that products meet the same safety standards as new devices. Furthermore, brand new designs that have just hit the market don’t have the benefit of previous use in the field. Design flaws or undiscovered production issues may not have been identified. Older refurbished models have a usage history behind them, so the buyer can assess any previous issues or recalls associated with the device.
That said, researching the history of each refurbished device is essential to identifying any past issues that could cause problems despite quality restoration.
Certified refurbished machines function identically to new versions of the device model, so refurbished equipment can offer clinical value identical to new assets. When refurbished acquisition costs are lower than new, it also supports positive outcomes because hospitals can replace older devices on lean budgets. And cost-effective refurbished purchases reduce the chance that low inventory will compromise care delivery.
Additionally, the refurbisher has the opportunity to upgrade older models with the latest hardware and software during the restoration process. Therefore, going with refurbished equipment offers an opportunity to upgrade clinical technology at a much lower price point than upgrading asset fleets with the latest new device models.
Ultimately, the choice between new and refurbished biomedical assets comes down to the individual needs of the healthcare organization. With due diligence, investing in refurbished devices can save thousands of dollars, improve clinical outcomes, and enhance the organization’s technology profile. Most importantly, working with a qualified seller can support better patient safety and overall care quality.
Want more expert advice? Our free guide, “Total Cost of Ownership: What Medical Equipment is Really Costing Your Company” offers a comprehensive approach to calculating TCO for your medical equipment.
Topics covered include:
- Examining barriers to TCO accuracy
- Gathering precise data from multiple stakeholders
- Uncovering hidden costs during the full device lifecycle
- Tips for reducing capital equipment costs