By Denise Lippy, Sr Dir. PT Field Service
Supporting and servicing a proton therapy center is very challenging because it involves maintaining many new complex devices in an intense clinical environment. Every part of the system must consistently deliver the same quality proton beam for every treatment, every day. I learned much of what I know about predictive maintenance from drag racing cars with my father. The key to winning is not racing the fastest car. In order to win, your car must never break down and must run the same speed consistently each race.
This is the principle that I used when I led service and operations for MD Anderson’s proton therapy system for over nine years. The predictive maintenance program supported the fastest clinical ramp at that time and enabled us to quickly achieve 100 percent uptime. The proactive monitoring system we developed allowed service to resolve problems before downtime occurred, therefore delivering the most consistently reliable care to patients every day.
Great service focuses on both the patient and the customer
As a leader and innovator in medical technology industry and an expert in proton therapy service, I joined Varian Medical Systems two years ago to lead and develop the proton therapy service organization. Our mission is to make proton therapy a more available and affordable treatment modality for patients globally. It was clear to me that together we could offer an even better proton therapy solution, one that would be measured not only by our success but by the customers’ success and would be built around the clinical practice not just the technology.
The first step in a patient-centric service model is to not focus mainly on practicing break/fix maintenance. Instead, we work closely with our customers to optimize, maintain, and upgrade their systems seamlessly, so that the patient can receive their treatments without disruption.
Our predictive maintenance service model helps assure customer success. We train our field service engineers to use their expertise proactively, constantly assessing system wear and tear, and performing service to avoid potential downtime. Our remote service capabilities provide further advanced support 24/7 to the field, ensuring major maintenances are performed outside of the clinical hours. This predictive maintenance service model allows us to deliver a premium product maximizing clinical performance for the customer.
Listening to our customers so we can both be successful
Success depends on a lot of factors – the quality, performance and availability of the system as well as the team that supports it. We’re fine tuning the processes our service team uses to respond to escalations, collaborate with engineering and communicate with customers.
The way we escalate and triage problems is unique. We created a model like an emergency room triage system. Instead of six individual levels of escalation, we get all six levels of experts working on the problem at the same time. After instituting this process, our average uptime increased significantly to up to 98 percent.
We hire service managers who have experience driving success, and part of their job is to help our customers be more successful. For example, the service managers obtain and test the new treatment plans in advance to confirm the beam delivery will be successful the first time for each treatment. This helps save the customer time and allows for more patients to be treated each day.
Additionally, we listen to our customers. Every week, our site managers and technical leads work with the clinical team to produce a report listing any challenges for the week. We meet with the customer and review the report to develop solutions if needed. This service meeting is unique because when we capture what is important to our customers on a weekly basis, we can use this information for future product developments. This helps our product development team realize opportunities to improve the product performance and enables us to align with the customers’ voice and prioritize how we release product enhancements.
We are constantly innovating solutions in proton therapy. Varian’s service program delivers customized service because each member of our team is invested in keeping the patient and customer at the forefront of everything they do. I thrive on organizing and compelling site service teams to laser focus on implementing innovative solutions which always prioritize clinical availability first and demand win-win business outcomes for health care providers and investors. My team works hard every day to fulfill Varian’s mission to make proton therapy a more available and affordable treatment modality.
I grew up working in every aspect of our family owned medical technology sales and service business, located in Collierville, TN. I have spent my career ensuring health care providers are equipped with leading edge diagnostic, treatment devices, and patient centric predictive maintenance programs to ensure the highest quality patient care and customer success. When I was nine years old, I started coding service tickets, soldering boards, managing inventory and by the time I was 16 I began installing equipment. By 1997, I had created one of the first mail-order film programs which eventually grew the local family business into a regional business with service offices in over nine states and a multimillion dollar revenue stream.
When I was 16, working as the office manager for the family business, I received a phone call from a local doctor’s office. Their x-ray machine failed and they were unable to image a child’s broken arm. I could hear the child in pain in the background, so I knew every second the machine was down, it counted. It was a massive responsibility, especially at that age, which motivated me to learn ways of managing emergency customer support and to prevent equipment failures. I was able to dispatch the service technician right away to repair the machine and the child was able to get treated. This experience shaped how I approach customer service and is at the heart of Varian’s predictive maintenance programs which always keep the patient at the forefront.