Tech by VICE

Fixers Are Crowdsourcing Medical Equipment Repair Information

The iFixit community is asking for help obtaining ventilator repair manuals amid the coronavirus pandemic.

by Matthew Gault
Mar 19 2020, 4:10pm

Image: iFixit

The coronavirus is here, it’s spreading, and the U.S. is not prepared. Most patients won’t require hospitalization, but many of those that do will require a ventilator to help them breathe. As cases mount daily, American health professionals are sounding the alarm—there may not be enough ventilators to go around.

One solution to the problem is repairing and updating old equipment to fill the shortage. iFixit, a company that teaches people how to repair their own devices, is building a database of repair information about hospital equipment but it needs help.

Ventilators are so important to treatment of coronavirus and in such short supply that people have begun to build and share DIY solutions. Repairing busted equipment is often a better option, but the companies who manufacture medical equipment want to make that impossible. Like Apple and John Deere, medical device manufacturers have lobbied to keep repair manuals out of the hands of third parties and used software to limit what kind of repairs people can do without an approved technician.

Many of the repair manuals for old and new equipment do exist online despite the restrictions. But there’s no central repository for that knowledge and finding the guide for a specific machine can waste time better spent saving lives. “Our biomed technicians’ time is too precious to waste on internet Easter-egg hunts,” iFixit’s Kyle Wiens said in a statement, “iFixit is building a central resource for maintenance and repair of hospital equipment. We need help from fixers everywhere, medical professionals, and biomedical technicians to make sure this is as robust, relevant, and useful as possible.”

To help, iFixit is reaching out to the medical community for help. According to Wiens, they need “model numbers of all of the ventilators in use, BiPAP machines that can do double-duty as ventilators, and other essential equipment such as anesthesia machines. Estimates on what parts or pieces of ventilators break, or might break, assuming an increased duty cycle. Advice on what parts that will need to be reused but will be in short supply. For example, bacterial filters will probably become scarce—can we design a 3D-printed case that we could clamshell an N95 mask into for a DIY replacement?”

Even if you’re not a medical professional, you can still help the cause. There are many repair manuals on a Tanzanian site called Frank’s Hospital Workshop. But Frank doesn’t have everything, and iFixit wants to mirror the site and add information people find in the field.

It also wants help “organizing and building out device pages with common medical equipment, reformatting service manuals to be more SEO-friendly and easier for non-engineers to read—screenshot or trim PDFs for use in step-by-step guides with straightforward instructions,” and to “translate all of the above for the widest impact!”

To upload a new manual you’ve found, go to the create a device page for the medical product on iFixit and upload a photo of the device and attach the manual. If you don’t have time to create the page yourself or you’ve got a trove of information to share, you can send the info to moderation@ifixit.com. If you’re looking for specific tasks or need to put your upload into context, go to iFixit’s forum and see what it needs.

While iFixit is working on building the database, right-to-repair advocates are calling on medical device manufacturers to release all their repair resources immediately. “Medical device manufacturers should immediately release all repair documentation and software, schematics and manuals for that equipment, especially ventilators,” Nathan Proctor, campaign director for U.S. PIRG Right to Repair, said in a statement.

“The fastest repair service is when hospital technicians have what they need to do repairs in-house, or can hire qualified technicians at their discretion. Preventing repair is generally a bad idea. That is even more true in a crisis, when systems are under stress. It could mean the difference between life and death.”

Tagged:
Coronavirus
iFixIt
COVID-19
ventilators