America needs ventilators. The coronavirus has spread far enough that Donald Trump used the Defense Production Act on April 2 to make it easier to produce more. There’s also broken ventilators on the market that could work with some repairs, but manufacturers spent weeks making it hard to get basic information needed for technicians to repair the machines.
U.S. PIRG and other groups had been pressuring the manufacturers to release the ventilator information for weeks. On April 14, the States Treasurer of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Colorado called on the manufacturers to release the documents in an open letter. Now, ventilator manufacturers GE, Fisher & Paykal, and Medtronic have made it easier to access the repair manuals and other service information hospitals need to repair broken ventilators.
GE opened a web portal where people can download the repair information for its Carescape R860 and Engstrom ventilators. GE typically requires a 4-day in-person training class to learn to repair ventilators but is making the information available to the public “to help navigate this crisis and ensure ventilators are maintained as quickly as possible to get these vital systems back into patient care.”
Medtronic, who makes a number of ventilators, has posted a portal to register for the design and repair information of its ventilators. Meaning that the savvy user could do more than repair a broken machine—they may be able to build a whole new ventilator.
But it’s not enough, according to Kyle Wiens of iFixit, a company that advocates for the right-to-repair and teaches people how to fix their own stuff. “Medtronic only released the manual for the PB560, which they don't sell in the U.S,” Wiens told Motherboard in a Twitter DM. “We don't have the manual for the PB980, their flagship model and the one used by our hospitals in [San Luis Obispo.”
Fisher & Paykal, whch manufacture humidifiers that help ventilators run, are also providing documents when asked. Manufacturer Mindray, who produces the SV600 and SV800 ventilators, have also made their repair manuals publicly available.
“When technicians can’t access service manuals, it puts unnecessary barriers to fixing life-saving equipment,” Nathan Proctor, Director of the Campaign for the Right to Repair at US PIRG, said in a public statement. “I hope manufacturers can agree: With lives at stake, this is no time to be proprietary.”
Hospitals, frontline health care workers, and right-to-repair advocates have been fighting the ventilator manufacturers for months. iFixit built a database of medical equipment that included ventilators. A group called The Human Standards Project is pirating medical device standards and sharing them with the DIY community.
This data dump from the ventilator manufacturer could save lives. It’s also an important win for the right-to-repair.
“We hope this also serves as an example about why restricting repair is harmful,” Proctor said in his statement. “It’s time we removed these repair restrictions for all the equipment in hospitals. We hope that manufacturers continue to expand their cooperation with independent technicians and hospital in-house biomeds to provide what they need to fix equipment. They should also work with sites such as iFixit that provide more efficient ways to find service information. We are all in this together.”
Update: This piece has been updated with comment from iFixit. This piece has also been updated clarify the role of Medtronic and Fisher & Paykal.