This piece was originally published in the March 2016 issue of ei, the magazine of the electroindustry.
By Andrew Northup, Director, Global Affairs, MITA
The Medical Imaging Technology Association (MITA) promotion of good refurbishment practices for medical imaging equipment stresses the benefits for patients and healthcare providers.
This is for good reason: a large, regional hospital focused on neurology or cancer treatment may opt to purchase the latest magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scanner every few years, even though the “old” equipment is still completely capable of providing high-quality diagnostic images and may have up to a dozen or more years left if in its expected service life.
Consequently, when a manufacturer properly refurbishes a used system, the end result is a medical imaging device that is as safe and effective as new. In turn, high-quality refurbished systems represent a viable diagnostic imaging upgrade option for hospitals seeking to stretch their budgets to purchase still-exceptionally good equipment.
This inspired MITA to draft NEMA/MITA 1-2015 Good Refurbishment Practices for Medical Imaging Equipment. When medical imaging equipment is refurbished in accordance with NEMA/MITA 1-2015, medical device regulators, healthcare providers, and patients can be assured that the patients will be safe and the doctors will have high-quality images to help direct their care.
The environmental benefits of refurbishing medical imaging equipment are certainly worth touting as well. By extending the useful life of medical imaging equipment, from 5–7 to 10–14 years or even more, refurbishment is a form of reuse and waste prevention, contributing to a circular economy.
Refurbishment saves the energy and the materials used to produce new equipment. Considering the energy and materials used in the manufacturing, safety testing, and regulatory compliance processes of imaging scanners, it is important, from an environmental standpoint, to extend their service life as much as possible.
As an example, a modern MRI scanner can weigh 13 tons, including huge magnets and highly advanced and intricate technological components, as well as plastic and metal coverings, patient gantries, and other supporting equipment. There are some 25,000 MRI systems installed worldwide.
By refurbishing these scanners and extending their service life, the return on the initial investment of energy and materials is maximized. The majority of the components stay in place, in contrast to recycling the parts and materials of decommissioned equipment. Approximately 90 percent of material for a system undergoing refurbishment can be re-used; only 10 percent of material has to be recycled, which is done using environmentally-friendly processes by a network of facilities specializing in reclaiming rare, valuable, and hazardous materials. Extending the life of devices and preserving valuable resources has resulted in CO2 savings of 150,000 tons over the past 10 years.
Addressing Global Sustainability
The largest, most mature markets for refurbished equipment are North America and Europe; both regions are capable of efficiently recycling advanced technology components at the end of the equipment’s service life. MRI and CT, technologies that demand the most resources and materials in their manufacture, are also the most widely refurbished.
However, refurbished medical imaging equipment is banned outright or tightly restricted in emerging global markets that could benefit the most. New global regulations threaten to bar the shipment of used medical electrical equipment for refurbishment or end-of-life disassembly and recycling.
Refurbishment of medical imaging equipment in accordance with NEMA/MITA 1-2015 offers a better way forward. By replacing bans on refurbished equipment with a regulated approach based on standards such as NEMA/MITA 1-2015, countries can expand access to advanced medical technology while guaranteeing patient safety and environmental sustainability. By allowing export of used medical devices, developing countries can sell like-new medical equipment for refurbishment at attractive price points.
MITA and our member companies know that a strong market requires a variety of options, but, like safety, sustainability is increasingly considered essential. Patients, doctors, and regulators can rest assured that medical imaging equipment refurbished in accordance with NEMA/MITA 1-2015 will not compromise on safety, diagnostic quality, or environmental sustainability.
Mr. Northup is responsible for MITA’s international regulatory harmonization programs.
 A circular economy refers to an industrial economy that produces no waste and pollution.