The disappearing dinosaurs

Thursday, March 25, 2010

PRESCOTT VALLEY, Ariz. - On the surface, there doesn't seem to be anything sentimental about home medical equipment. But dig a little deeper and you discover that some HME providers are big softies when it comes to putting their old equipment out to pasture.

"We offer advice, and sometimes we offer it when they don't want it," said Michael Armstrong, who started his HME repair business, Respiratory Equipment Service, five years ago. "One of the things we look at is if a company has older equipment. Sure, we can refurbish it and make it look like new, but there is an aesthetic value too. If you put a piece of equipment out that is 15 years old, even though it is virtually brand new inside, it still looks 15 years old."

Armstrong, 53, started his company five years ago, and these days his shop repairs, on average, 200 pieces of equipment each month, mostly concentrators and CPAPs. Providers from all over the country send him equipment to repair, much of it still under warranty, but 80% of his business comes from Arizona.

While some providers hate to part with old warhorses, the trend is toward HMEs purchasing more modern, lightweight and quieter equipment. In fact, patients have begun to demand that, he said.

"Patients are starting to say, 'Why are you bringing me this? Company XYZ over here has these nice brand new quiet ones,'" Armstrong said. "The dinosaurs are starting to go away."

Even if a piece of equipment is not under warranty, if it still looks good, it may be more cost-effective to repair the unit than replace it with something new, Armstrong said.

"Most of the stuff that comes through our shop--we can repair and put it back out there for $150," he said. "And we expect everything, with the exception of filter changes and routine maintenance, to run for two years before it needs anything done. That isn't bad."