One of our biggest concerns when buying a new vehicle as consumers is whether we are getting a lemon.
We’ve all heard about the warnings of buying a vehicle that was made on a Monday or Friday. But the fact is that cars, just like surgical tables, are not assembled in one day.
Every surgical table experiences the same problems as other tables at some point and to some degree.
Meditek was founded in 1981 with the primary focus on remanufacturing surgical tables. We saw a gap in the service that hospitals were receiving and the frustration managers were experiencing with always having to use their budget to buy new.
Since then, we have remanufactured hundreds of tables of all brands and models. Our most senior technician just celebrated his 32nd anniversary with Meditek, another has celebrated 28 years! Now, that is a lot of knowledge and experience.
Having the unique position of being a distributor and not a manufacturer of OR tables, we are able to give an unbiased look at the most common problems found in general surgery tables.
However, we will keep it general and not single out any specific brand, as each brand has its own set of common problems and each model within that brand have their own set of common problems.
Note: To keep this article professional, we will not name any problems that specific brands and models experience. If you would like our detailed information on the problems with specific makes/models, please contact us and we will be happy to provide this to you directly. The objective of this report is to arm you with the questions you need to ask so that you can draw your own conclusions.
Based on our experience and knowledge, here are the most common problems with general OR tables and the questions you should ask.
Did you know? MedWrench is a great resource for finding more information on common problems with surgical tables and other medical equipment.
By far one of the most common items to break. Hand pendant controls are prone to breaking down, no matter what surgical table brand you have.
You may be thinking that the hand control is such a small piece, is it really that important?
Go ahead and answer that question yourself when your hand control doesn’t work as you are preparing to start your next surgery!
There are actually several issues within the overall hand control problem.
A lot of times, the cord will break due to it being pulled or stretched. Likewise, if the cord is excessively long, there is a better chance that it will catch on something and break.
Check the durability of the cord. Is it coiled or straight?
Each hand control unit will have a strainer relief component. If this breaks, as it happens to do with one particular brand more than others, the cord experiences higher friction when it is placed over the edge of the table.
Once the cord is damaged, the hand control loses all functionality, rendering the table virtually useless.
The hand control is basically just like any other remote control. You press a button and an electrical function engages.
And just like any type of computer board, we know that there are differences in quality of soldering and microchips.
Hand controls tend to get their share of punishment, whether it’s being banging against the table, or falling on the floor and the casing makes all the difference.
Here are some questions to ask your salesperson:
- Is the hand control casing made of plastic or metal?
- Is the clip made of plastic or metal?
- What kind of metal? Steel, aluminum, etc.?
- How is the clip fastened to the casing? Is it one solid piece, or is the clip attached with a screw or adhesive?
- Are the buttons recessed, or do they stick out?
We’re all aware that moving parts in any product or equipment will experience some calibration issues over time. Same thing goes for surgical tables.
You want to look for a table that will require minimal re-calibration, as constantly having to do this will cut into the table’s up time.
Return to level:
Some complaints that we have seen over the years are that the table only goes a little bit of the way back to level position and not fully.
We see this problem with two particular models we have worked on a lot.
If a table isn’t returning to level at all, this may be more than just a calibration issue.
This feature can put a lot of stress on a table, especially if the patient is at max weight. There are essentially three issues that can happen:
- It’s not reaching its maximum degree
- It’s not returning to normal level
- It’s tilting more than what the lateral tilt is supposed to
In the third case, the issue may be very serious, and the table should be taken offline, as it may be more of a mechanical issue.
Table drifting down:
If you try to hold something heavy in your hand above your head for an extended amount of time, eventually your arm will start to drift down.
Same thing goes for tables. Case after case of going up and down with patients weighing it down, the table’s strength will start to show signs of weakness and drift will occur.
This is especially true if you have a table with a lower maximum permissible weight and patients that are consistently close to the max (i.e. table weight of 500 lbs and patients of 300 lbs).
Whereas, if you have a table with a max weight of 1,200 lbs and your patients are 300 to 400 lbs, there is less stress.
While we have seen several cases of leg sections drifting down, the more common problem is the leg section frames not aligning.
This could be due to malfunctioning pins that either get stressed or worn out.
Outer Shell and Mechanics
By far one of the biggest service issues we see is the breaking, cracking, bending, or loose outer shell of a surgical table.
The implications of which can either be purely cosmetic or detrimental to function.
When looking at buying a surgical table, ask the vendor about the material used.
While Maquet uses a fibreglass base cover on some models, most others will use stainless steel.
But remember that stainless steel also varies in strength.
If something happens to the base cover, it’s probably most likely going to be a cosmetic thing.
When it’s not is when the base cover gets a crack where liquids can either get in or out.
***The ergonomics of the base cover is also important. If you have a base cover that is flat with a wide surface area, staff will be more inclined to place accessories on top of the base. This is not necessarily a good thing. You see, when another staff member lowers the table, unaware of the accessory on top of the base, the result may be a broken accessory, damaged base cover, and most importantly damaged column shrouds (aka column covers). Some tables come with an inverted base cover and shorter ends, which make placing accessories on top of the base not a good idea at all.
Not only is the number of column shrouds important but also the grade, or thickness, of the stainless steel that cover the column.
Here are some questions to ask:
- How many shroud covers does the table have? There is a big difference between having three or seven.
- What is the grade or thickness of each shroud? Remember that the lighter the grade, the easier it is to damage.
There is one brand and model in particular that has experienced a recall due to the column shroud being easily damaged.
*Important: When the column shrouds get bent, the table will not raise and lower properly, which could in turn do more damage to the table and break it. If you see a bent column shroud, take the table out of service immediately.
There are two main problems that can occur with the lateral tilt, each very serious.
The first one is almost entirely specific to one brand.
It is that the lateral tilt main pivot pin fails to stay locked and then slides out of place.
Once it’s out of place, the pin will bend, which results in the tabletop falling over.
Pretty much every table is susceptible to the second issue.
The screws and fasteners of the lateral tilt hydraulic cylinder bottom bracket come loose, and the tabletop with tilt to one side and not stay level.
Apart from keeping a patient from falling off, side rails hold accessories, usually via a clamping system.
While the clamping may damage the side rails themselves due to over tightening, the other two most common ways are by the accessories being moved beyond their intended positions, or by other equipment banging into them.
The more electronic components the table has the more likely that there will be an electric failure somewhere.
This is where a lot of brands differentiate themselves.
For example, while there is one brand in particular that uses fewer electronic components, they only have one single point where are power goes through.
We’ve seen many cases where the power source was not able to handle what was being asked of it and that resulted in the table breaking down.
However, on the other side of the spectrum, we’ve seen tables with more electronic components going through more than one power supply experience issues as well.
Battery not charging or holding charge:
Definitely one of the issues we see all the time. There could be a few reasons why batteries stop charging or hold a charge.
- Table being left in the ON position while not in use
- Lack of Preventive Maintenance
- Leaving the battery discharged for an extended amount of time
- Not fully charging the battery
- Continuing to use the table battery even though battery light is blinking and not plugging in the table
- Power cord is defective
- Circuit breaker was tripped
- Fuse burnt out
Another thing to consider is if the table has a lead-acid battery and is not used very often or put into long-term storage.
Lead-acid batteries are prone to self-discharge and deterioration if not used frequently.
The main problem with the hydraulic system is leaking oil.
While the result of a hydraulic system is essentially the same in every surgical table, the means of getting to that result can differ.
For example, while two tables will both have hydraulic cylinders, the quality of those cylinders will determine the likelihood of oil leaking, the quantity of oil leaked and how frequently.
The other important consideration is the number of cylinders. The more moving parts, the greater chance of something going wrong.
It is safe to say that, at some point, all surgical tables will leak oil.
Another important factor is how the base is designed. Some tables will have a base that holds oil and stops it from leaking onto the floor, while others will be porous and will allow oil to leak onto the floor.
*Important: Oil on the floor may lead to very dangerous slipping or falling hazards for staff and patients.
Drawing Your Own Conclusions
At the end of the day, all tables from all brands have problems.
The ones we listed here are what we found to be the most common.
How can you prevent or minimize these problems?
We strongly recommend having your surgical tables under a Preventive Maintenance contract where the table is getting inspected and maintained on a set and scheduled basis (we recommend at minimum every 6 months).
A good PM program will inspect, test and adjust all of previously mentioned points meaning that potential failures can be caught and corrected proactively before they develop into serious failures.
Additionally, by following good PM protocols, you will prolong the useful life of your equipment and thereby reduces the costs associated with capital equipment replacement.
We hope that you can use this guide to help narrow your search when looking to buy an OR table or for simply identifying problematic areas to start looking for on your existing equipment.
Keeping these common problems in mind will help you draw your own conclusions as you converse with vendors about different surgical table brands (and that is the best way you can use this unbiased knowledge!).
*Remember: Today’s tables are as complex as vehicles and in need of just as much preventive maintenance. You take your car for an oil change, tune-up, etc., and your table needs maintenance too.
InSight Equipment Assessment Program
We offer our unique InSight equipment assessment program to hospitals and healthcare facilities across Canada.
Major benefits of InSight:
- Plan for upcoming product replacements
- Address critical service issues before they happen
- Focus funds where they are most required
- Avoid staff or patient injury
Meditek is the leader in remanufacturing surgical tables in Canada. We have the capability to service all tables, regardless of brand or model.