Smart shopping: Chicago orthopedic practice knows the value of a good service contract when investing in imaging equipment

The Illinois Bone and Joint Institute (IBJI) treats patients in the Chicago area for every orthopedic issue under the sun, from rheumatoid arthritis to total knee replacements, and its 100-plus physicians order thousands of imaging exams on an annual basis.

To keep up with that deluge of fractures, pulls, and strains, IBJI maintains 13 different MRI and CT scanners. And the person in charge of keeping those scanners in top working order is Elizabeth Nowac, RT (R)(M)(MRI)(MRSO), technical manager of MRI and CT services.

Nowac first joined the IBJI family back in 2003 and serves as a liaison of sorts, connecting the various stakeholders involved with ordering, performing and interpreting medical images. She’s also a quality control expert, working closely to confirm everything is running as it should be at all times.

In addition, Nowac helps gather important intel when a piece of imaging equipment needs to be updated or replaced. She looks over all of the available information and does everything she can to ensure IBJI makes the smartest purchasing decisions possible.

When kicking off any new project, Nowac makes sure IBJI receives quotes from multiple vendors. Hitachi, she says, often gets chosen for offering both an attractive purchase price and a one-of-a-kind service contract. In fact, choosing Hitachi has become quite common for IBJI over the years. More than half of all the scanners the physician-owned practice uses were manufactured by Hitachi—and it’s a trend Nowac doesn’t see changing any time soon.

A long history with a reliable vendor

Nowac first started working with Hitachi scanners in 1997, and the first thing she noticed about the company was how easy its equipment was to operate. More than two decades later, she says, that is still the case.  

“One area where Hitachi truly stand out is how user-friendly their equipment has always been,” Nowac says. “If I have to teach a new technologist how to use a Hitachi scanner, it only takes a couple days before that person is up and running. With other vendors, it can be like putting together IKEA furniture—it’s slow, confusing and you have to spend a lot of time explaining things.”

A more recent reason she loves to work with Hitachi is the design of the company’s open MRI scanners, particular the Oasis 1.2T.

“A lot of other vendors have tried open design, but none of them seem to ever pan out,” she says. “It feels like Hitachi really captured that market and continues to get better and better. A lot of patients can’t be scanned on any other equipment. If we didn’t have the Oasis—we have three, actually—physicians couldn’t get the proper images they need to provide the best possible care for their patients.”

Service contracts that put the customer first

Overall, the No. 1 reason IBJI has turned to Hitachi again and again is its inclusive, customer-friendly service contracts. Even if the purchasing prices between two vendors are the same, Nowac says, the added features included with Hitachi’s contract gives them a clear advantage.

“We always look over that contract to gain a clear understanding of the total cost of ownership,” she says. “It’s not just about what you pay upfront. It’s also about what you pay for the entire time you own that scanner.”

This can be especially important in today’s healthcare landscape, where budgets are tighter than in the past and every last dollar counts. Providers can pay dearly if they don’t study the small print of their service contracts. With the wrong coverage, even the most straightforward request can lead to a bill of $5,000 or more.

Nowac shared some key areas where Hitachi’s contracts stand above and beyond the competition. Once you’re offered perks such as these, she says, it can be difficult to deal with anything less.

Uptime guarantee: Hitachi provides users with an uptime guarantee of 99%, calculated against actual working hours. This is crucial for IBJI, which does a lot of pre-surgical planning based on MRI and CT scans. If any of those studies are delayed, it can push back everything.

“It’s a matter of providing the best care to our patients,” Nowac says. “And with a 99% guarantee, we can do just that. Any MRI or CT site would want to be as close as possible to that number.”

That 99% can save customers up to $20,000 in lost revenue annually, showing how vital it is to have your equipment up and running at all times.

Training and instruction: Hitachi’s service contracts cover training at the company’s training center, on site or even remotely—it all comes down to what works best for the customer. Also, unlimited training is included, so there’s no additional fee when you add or replace staff.  

“They always send over a team of application specialists when we need them,” Nowac says. “They’ll stay as long as needed—but they also help us get up and running as soon as possible. We appreciate that mindset, because it helps us start taking care of our patients as soon as possible and start the revenue cycle.

Software updates: Once you purchase a Hitachi imaging solution, upgrades to the product’s operating software are provided at no additional cost.

Accreditation support: One of the challenges of managing imaging equipment is the accreditation process—it can take a solid three months just to prepare—and Nowac is particularly pleased with the help she receives from Hitachi. Other companies are happy to help out at a whopping $5,000 per visit, but Hitachi includes accreditation assistance as a staple of its service contracts.

“They are the only vendor that provides such an extensive support system for obtaining accreditations” Nowac says. “It’s so important. With so many scanners to manage, I’m constantly working on accreditation for one machine or another. , but I haven’t failed a single American College of Radiology or Intersocietal Accreditation Commission inspection yet. I have Hitachi to thank for that.”

‘It’s a lifetime relationship’

Another key element of Hitachi’s service contracts has less to do with the fine print and more to do with the company’s considerate sales team. Nowac recalls working with other vendors and how the sales representative vanishes “as soon as someone signs on the dotted line.” At Hitachi, however, she says she works with the same person throughout the entire process—and for the life of the equipment.

“They don’t run away as soon as they’ve earned the sale—they stay within reach, ready to help in any way they can,” she says. “It’s a lifetime relationship. That definitely sets Hitachi apart from everyone else. It’s another big reason they keep earning our business.”