I recently was asked, “Other than eBay and PartSource, what sources would you recommend for purchasing biomedical and imaging parts?”

I personally have never used either eBay or PartSource as a source for medical repair parts or accessories. I am much more comfortable dealing with the actual owner of the item that I am buying, so that I can be my own judge of quality, reputation, and likelihood of first-time fix. I like to keep the number of intermediaries to an absolute minimum whenever possible. Technical items such as imaging parts have revision levels and compatibility with other parts. This process isn't like ordering a sleeping bag off of Amazon. But this question was not about parts aggregators; it was about direct sellers of parts.

I would start by looking in magazines such as 24×7, BI&T, TechNation, and Medical Dealer, in which established companies have to have money to advertise. This ability to advertise alone is not an assurance of quality or protection for you, but it is a sign that they are a cut above someone who has just picked up a couple of used machines and is trying to sell parts from them on eBay without a good quality or testing system.

After you have a list of potential sellers, check out their websites. You can tell a lot about a company from its website. Granted, many companies pay big bucks to have their websites professionally designed, in order to draw in customers, but in my experience, the majority of sites I visit are poor quality. They don't tell what the company offers, you can't get to the place you need, you can't ask a question, and you can't find the information you are seeking.

The ability to attract industry leaders and to participate in local, regional, or national meetings or publications is a sign that they choose to give back in tangible ways to benefit the entire field.

If the website is passable, you can begin to get a feel for the character and culture of the company. Do they share pictures and biographies of leadership? Do they tell the story of the company—their history and vision? Do they participate in charitable causes? Do they have free information that you can read or download without buying something? Do they have people in their company who you recognize from associations, meetings, or journals, or who are leaders in the industry? These qualities indicate that a company is more than just a purely profit-driven sales organization. The ability to attract industry leaders and to participate in local, regional, or national meetings or publications is a sign that they choose to give back in tangible ways to benefit the entire field.

As you browse these websites, jot down questions if anything is unclear. For example, you will need information on their return policy, quality control of parts, ISO systems, FDA compliance, other major customers, and technical support (both before and after the sale). After you have a solid list of contenders and questions, pick up the phone and call the companies. Speak to someone in sales—preferably the sales person who will be handling your account. Ask specific and tough questions, and insist on direct and straightforward answers. If you get the runaround before you are a customer, think about how frustrating it will be after you are a customer. Remember: ask for anything that you want. Everything is negotiable, they want your business, and deals are most easily made before you commit to doing business.

After you have spoken with the companies on your list, put it all out of your mind for a day or two. This is a technique I use to allow my subconscious mind to quietly work on a problem while my conscious mind deals with other things. After a few days, revisit the companies again. I am confident that one or two will stand out as superior to the others as the best choice for you and your hospital.

If you get the runaround before you are a customer, think about how frustrating it will be after you are a customer. Remember: ask for anything that you want. Everything is negotiable, they want your business, and deals are most easily made before you commit to doing business.

Using these methods, I have discovered a number of companies with which I enjoy doing business, mainly because of their leadership, business practices, and ethics. It all boils down to what I call the “handshake test”: There are some companies that you feel perfectly comfortable doing business with based solely on a handshake, whereas you wouldn't dare do business with other companies on just a handshake. Figure out which category every company fits into, and stick with the former.

About the Author

Patrick K. Lynch, CHTM, CBET, CCE, is a longtime leader in the healthcare technology management (HTM) field. Email: patrick@plynch.us