Imaging Service 101

A basic requirement for performing service on diagnostic imaging systems is knowing how to do the technical part of the job; maintenance, troubleshooting and replacement of parts. The level of knowledge the imaging engineer has about a particular system affects all aspects of performing service, including speed, quality, cost, and safety. Since there are no courses on servicing Siemens Magnetom MRIs, GE LightSpeed CT scanners or Philips ultrasound systems available from a college, the way that we initially gain most of that knowledge is through some sort of training. That is usually a combination of general modality training, self-learning by reading user and service manuals, being taught by a coworker on the job (OJT), and maybe some system-specific training. Sometimes the only “training” we get is hands-on experience at the school of hard knocks. That can also be the most expensive training, since a mistake made while servicing an imaging system can cost thousands of dollars, and possibly result in injury or death of a patient or the imaging engineer! Determining what level of training is needed, and where and how to get that training are among the most important decisions that an imaging engineer and their manager make.

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Jim Carr: Director of Service & International Operations

Sometimes the only “training” we get is hands-on experience at the school of hard knocks. That can also be the most expensive training, since a mistake made while servicing an imaging system can cost thousands of dollars, and possibly result in injury or death of a patient or the imaging engineer!

Jim Carr

Most of us have had the experience and paid the price of learning the hard way, and know that it is easier and less expensive in the long run to get trained by someone that already knows. There are two levels of knowledge or training that are needed for imaging engineers. Basic or introductory training on a particular imaging modality, such as X-ray or ultrasound, provides knowledge of the clinical applications, the physics and general theory of operation, typical design architecture, and how to safely perform general maintenance and testing. There are some colleges, biomedical engineering schools and independent service organizations that provide this type of general modality training. Advanced level knowledge is how to maintain and service a specific model of imaging system. This includes such things as knowing how to operate the system, running diagnostics, troubleshooting problems, how to replace parts, doing performance testing and calibration, and reloading software. Advanced training on specific models of imaging systems may be available from the OEM (manufacturer) or an independent service organization (ISO).

Determining the level and type of training needed is usually not a straight forward process. There are not many regulations or industry requirements to guide us. Basically it comes down to a couple of questions: What do you need to learn in order to be proficient at servicing the system, and how much time do you have until you need to be at that level?

OJT can be an effective way to learn about a modality or specific system when done correctly, and when the trainer and trainee are both given the amount of time needed to do it. A common problem with OJT is trying to do training while one or both people are also doing their “regular” jobs. There is often a lack of reference material, and not all imaging engineers are good trainers. To make OJT as good as possible, a list of training objectives and methods, and a way to objectively measure the effectiveness of the training should be developed beforehand.

When formal training is available and is the best answer, the next decision is where to get it. The OEM may have a school that you can attend. OEM schools are usually quite expensive, take longer than a training class from an ISO, and often are not very effective. The objective of an OEM school is not to make the customer capable of doing service on their own. Besides the need to meet purchasing requirements of a hospital, the manufacturer’s goal for their service training is often to “scare the crap out of the Biomeds so they go back and tell their boss to buy a service contract,” as was told to someone I know that once ran technical training for a large OEM.

There are a few ISOs that offer service training on imaging systems. A couple have technical training as their main product (e.g.; RSTI). The rest of the ISOs that offer service training are companies that sell parts and systems. The objective for service training at these companies is typically to make the student capable of working on the equipment, in order to sell parts or systems to them.

An important factor to consider when evaluating a training provider is the level of expertise the trainer and the company have. An OEM will tell you they have the greatest knowledge of the system. That may be true, but are they going to share that knowledge with you? An ISO that repairs and refurbishes parts and systems usually developed that capability through reverse engineering, and as a result they learn a lot about how to test and repair the system. Also, most manufacturer’s schools assume that the diagnostic software and utilities on the system are available, and we know that is not always the case. And even if they are, the diagnostic tools can be nondeterministic and even misleading (and the OEM is not likely to admit that). On some systems, a password or key may be needed in order to replace a part or reload software. Before you commit and invest in a training class, make sure you will be able to get passwords or whatever you may need in order to service the system. An ISO class may include training on workarounds to the barriers OEMs have created.

Since most of the imaging engineers I know learn best by doing and there are often certain “gotchas” to watch out for when working on a particular scanner, the availability of systems for hands-on sessions is important. AUE limits our class sizes depending on how many systems are available to make sure each student gets to participate. Other factors to consider are whether updates to the training materials and ongoing technical support are provided after the training class.

When considering whether to invest in training, be sure to think about the costs of not training.

Jim Carr

When considering whether to invest in training, be sure to think about the costs of not training. When I worked at Technicare, one of our engineers was killed while doing a PM on a CT scanner. Doing a PM was actually part of our OJT program, but he had not been trained on high voltage safety. A mistake while replacing a part on an ultrasound scanner recently cost a hospital in Arizona over $46,000. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone has inadvertently quenched a magnet while servicing a MRI system. Certainly, such mistakes can be made by someone that has been trained, but I assert that attending a good training class makes such mistakes less likely.

Whatever method you use, be intentional about technical training. The best training not only teaches the student how to maintain and service the equipment, it makes them confident in their ability to do so.