The global coronavirus pandemic and subsequent social distancing recommendations and shelter-in-place mandates have impacted everything from how we interact with our friends and family members to how we do business. While millions of people and companies have turned to platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams to conduct business from home, there are still essential service workers that simply cannot do their job remotely, like the people tasked with maintaining and repairing critical medical equipment, for example.
spoke with Stacey Epstein, chief marketing and customer experience officer at ServiceMax
, a field service management company, about how COVID-19 is impacting medical device companies from a field service perspective.
"If you specifically look at the medical device industry, I mean wow, how much have they become front and center in this fight? Certainly that space has always been a mission-critical industry, but now it's become life or death for the world," Epstein said. "What that has done is put them both in an opportunity to do great things, but also it puts them under a great deal of stress."
For example, she said, one large medical device manufacturer she works with is currently running at four times its normal production capacity.
"So you can imagine that increases the need not only on the shop floor for that production line, but extends all the way out to that field service team," Epstein said, adding that these new machines being produced at four-times capacity need to be delivered, installed, and maintained.
"That means you've got to have technicians that are highly functioning at the same time when we're all being told to stay home," she said. "It's such a perfect storm ... on one hand it's great for these companies to feel needed and to be put in a position to help, but it's also a very tense situation."
On top of that, there are suddenly other large successful companies in other industries, like Dyson or McLaren Racing that are pitching in to make ventilators. So there is an increased demand for field service technicians but at the same time, companies don't want to put their workforce in jeopardy. That's where communication becomes more crucial than ever before.
"If I have four times the number of ventilators being shipped, there's no way I can cover that with my current field service team," Epstein said. "That means I'm getting people on the job that maybe aren't as highly trained as my typical staff. That means I have to be able to communicate with them to help them get the job done. Where communication, I think in some cases, was seen as a nice to have before, it is now seen as mission critical. We cannot have any pause in that service delivery chain or we're not going to meet the capacity."
Field service management experts like ServiceMax have been pushing the notion of digital transformation for years and Epstein says the companies that were early adopters of that digital transformation are really reaping the benefits now because they have the data at their fingertips to tell them if their equipment is running at capacity in the field and how much uptime it has. If there is a problem, some medical device systems can be equipped with a self-diagnostic function to not only enable the manufacturer to quickly send the right person to fix it, but might even alert the manufacturer in advance of a breakdown so that preventative maintenance tasks can be performed.
As for companies that have been slower to adopt digital field service management using technology like artificial intelligence and Internet of Things, the middle of a pandemic might not be the best time to make that leap. However, it does prove out the value of those capabilities, Epstein said, so that maybe those companies can be better prepared in the future.
Epstein also shared the following tips for when medical device field service engineers must service essential assets during the current crisis:
- Reach out to your customers to understand what the expectation is on their business. Understand whether they are closing down, ramping up, or anything in between to start to paint a picture of resource requirements. This is the time to really create a partnership with your customers and allow both sides to support each other effectively.
- While you're talking to them, take the time to validate installed based customer information over the phone in advance of a service visit. You may have records of all of your equipment, but it may be in old systems that are not easily accessible to the technician in the field. By validating their data over the phone with the customer, and ensuring they have accurate location data, you can decrease the number of locations and people a field engineer is exposed to.
- Ponder the uniqe personal situations within your field workforce. Do the technicians have young children that need supervision at home? Do they care for elderly family members living with or dependent on them? Are they in at-risk categories? Reassign these individuals to tasks like remote triage or manning a hotline to share tribal knowledge with technicians in the field.
- Consider a "swing shift" model. Schedule technicians to service the equipment while only security is on site and the field service equipment team has been given clearance to enter the building during those off hours, if possible.
- Stagger crew dispatch times to minimize crew interaction. Limit crew members to one per truck, with other crew members reporting directly to job sites in their personal vehicle.
- Leverage a technology feature like checklists to ensure that field technicians are following new protocols that are required due to COVID-19.
- Bypass the customer signature mandate to reduce the spread of germs, or send the invoice and complete authorization via email so the custome doesn't need to get close to the technician or physically touch their smartphone or tablet.
- Review your selection of personal protection equipment in the field. Can you supplement the gear you are providing to offer more protection?
For more insight from ServiceMax on this topic see the firm's field service blog.
For more of MD+DI's ongoing coverage of resources, regulatory support, and solutions for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit our COVID-19 News Central page.