Common Sense Approach to the
Purchase of Laboratory Equipment
T. Mitzner, D.V.M
The act of acquiring
laboratory equipment doesn’t have to become a gut wrenching
nightmare where not only salespeople get pitted against
each other but also doctors and technicians. If the process
is approached in a systematic, stepwise manner beginning
with a careful assessment of the true needs of the practice,
you will find that much of the unpleasant name-calling
and finger pointing that often surrounds such purchases
can be avoided. Furthermore, by making the project a collective
one, seldom if ever will you have to resort to coaxing
a clinician or staff member to make use of the new equipment.
a Wish List
first step in the decision-making process is to come up
with a “wish list” of features and diagnostic capabilities
you hope to acquire along with the new piece of equipment.
Decide exactly what you want from your impending purchase
in terms of accuracy, speed, ease of use, service availability,
footprint, etc. but don’t be surprised if you find out
later that every item on your wish list can’t be met with
a single purchase.
it’s time to start gathering information. Keep your burden
to a minimum, however, by only requesting spec sheets
for those products which encompass the majority of points
on your wish list. If you need more information than what’s
published on the spec sheets, don’t hesitate to ask prospective
suppliers about the possibility of loaning you an operator’s
manual to review for a few days. If you do this, be sure
to review the sections of the manual which deal with Intended
Use and Limitations of the System. Within
the Intended Use section, you’re liable to find
out that both the salesman and the descriptive literature
may have overstated the system’s utility. Likewise, be
sure to review the Limitations section for items
which may have been left out of the descriptive literature
or the sales representative’s pitch.
you’ve established a short list of laboratory products
which offer your most desired features, it’s time to sit
down with a calculator and do some more homework. The
first issue to be addressed is “Cost in Use”.
cost in use for any analyzer is made up of the lease or
monthly cost, plus service or maintenance agreements,
reagent and consumables costs per cycle and 10% of that
cost for “waste”. Don’t forget to add in any calibration
and QC costs including the reagents and consumables required
to run them. If you add up all of these figures and divide
by the anticipated number of actual patient tests you’ll
run each month,
you’ll arrive at the true cost per test also known as
the cost in use or the cost per billable result.
Remember that while the Initial capital outlay requirement
is always of importance, realize that sometimes in our
haste to take advantage of an equipment “special” or sale,
the concept of cost in use is sometimes forgotten. Ease
of operation can be determined by carefully reviewing
the operator’s manual with an eye towards the expertise
of your particular staff. This is also a good issue to
discuss with other practices currently using the product
we speak of instrument performance, we include comments
regarding the accuracy and precision of the instrument
as well as overall reliability. The best information one
can hope to find in terms of assessing accuracy and precision
would be to seek objective articles written about the
product in refereed journals. Performance data from the
manufacturer can also be useful but only if the manufacturer
will supply you with the raw data from which the conclusions
and performance claims have been derived.
you’re offered the opportunity to trial the product, review
the quality control results regularly and be sure to run
both normal and abnormal levels. Assay of pooled serum
specimens is also an excellent means for checking performance.
Proficiency tests in the form of unknown specimen challenges
can be extremely useful for assessing the prospective
system’s performance against other similar products.
might also want to consult with colleagues regarding their
particular performance experience with a given product.
If the colleague is not monitoring his system with QC
on a regular basis, however, any comments regarding accuracy
and precision should be considered carefully. Furthermore,
when consulting with colleagues on matters such as whether
or not to purchase a particular piece of expensive equipment,
one must be realize that the “halo effect” may come into
play. What this means is that colleagues who may have
made a mistake with regard to the purchase of a particular
piece equipment may not be entirely willing to admit it!
arrived at a reasonable assessment of instrument performance,
cost in use, and ease of operation and you’ve addressed
any other considerations such as size, service, technical
support, etc., consider yourself to be an informed consumer.
Now, go out and strike that deal!