Article Date: 5/1/2009

Pearls for Purchasing PRE-OWNED Equipment

Pearls for Purchasing PRE-OWNED Equipment

Follow these tips to reap the rewards of the pre-owned equipment market.

BRIAN BUCCA, O.D., Denver, Colo.

The prospect of purchasing pre-owned equipment, especially premium items, such as an optical coherence tomographer, gives many practitioners an overwhelming sense of apprehension. To be fair, this apprehension is warranted, as purchasing preowned equipment does have inherent pitfalls. Still, several outstanding opportunities exist within this market, if you know how to avoid these pitfalls.

Here, I provide you with recommendations based on my personal experience of navigating through the pre-owned equipment market. Although I've written these tips in the context of major equipment purchases, you can extrapolate them to items of any cost.

1 Know the equipment's history

Ideally, you should obtain the history of the equipment before you actually purchase the item in question. You don't want to end up with a lemon or a device that doesn't meet all your needs.

To conduct a background check, provide the manufacturer with the device's serial number. The manufacturer should be able to query a service log for it, which can reveal: manufacturing date, type and frequency of required services and repairs, extent of use and number of previous owners.

Keep in mind, however, that if the equipment has had many owners and different sellers outside the manufacturer, this inquiry from the manufacturer may not reveal the device's entire history. In these cases, contact the most recent previous owner to determine whether he or she kept a service log. If the manufacturer's service log reveals an unacceptable amount of equipment repairs and issues, obtaining this additional history obviously isn't necessary. If you aren't comfortable with anything related to the item's history, it's time to forgo purchasing the equipment. Also, if the inquiry reveals a history gap between five to 10 years, I recommend you abandon the purchase, as this is a significant amount of time to be unaware of the health of the equipment.

Ten Questions to Ask When Purchasing Pre-Owned Equipment
  1. Has the instrument been properly calibrated?
  2. To what standard has the instrument been reconditioned? Do you know the service history?
  3. Is software updated to the latest maintenance release?
  4. Has previous owner's patient data been removed in compliance with HIPAA confidentiality requirements?
  5. Has third-party hardware or software been added that might compromise the system or your data?
  6. To whom is the instrument and software licensed?
  7. How will you receive future product upgrades?
  8. Who will train your staff?
  9. Do you have all documentation including Owner's Manual, quick reference guides and other resources?
  10. What will you do for a warrantee or service contract?
Courtesy Marianne Whitby, senior marketing manager, Carl Zeiss Meditec.

2 Assess the equipment supplier's reputation

Any equipment supplier should be happy to provide customer references. Although the supplier will likely provide you with the names of their happiest patrons, you can still obtain important information regarding the supplier's responsiveness and quality of customer service, availability of phone support, initial condition of purchased equipment, need for repeat repairs and the customer's likelihood of repeat patronage. You want to ensure you're conducting business with a reputable and reliable entity.

Also, searching the Internet on sites, such as OD Wire, can be an excellent way to obtain unbiased opinions regarding equipment suppliers.

3 Always get a service agreement

Service agreement contracts are commonplace for elaborate items, such as a topographer. They are akin to purchasing insurance against unexpected equipment malfunction. My rule of thumb: If the device requires a trained individual to fix it, you need a service agreement.

A warranty should preclude the purchase of a service agreement for the time of coverage — usually a year — but upon expiration, a service agreement contract is an absolute necessity for both pre-owned and new equipment.

A caveat: Be sure to budget for this annual expense in addition to the base cost of the equipment. Annual contracts for premium items can easily extend into the thousands of dollars, and while purchasing a multiple year contract is possible, cost savings are usually nominal.

Should You Consider a Demo Unit?
If you equate purchasing pre-owned equipment to procuring damaged goods, but the price tags of new machinery are giving you "sticker shock," a demo unit may be right for you. I believe these items, purchased through the manufacturer, are arguably the best bargain on the pre-owned equipment market, as they see little to no use before they arrive at your practice. Metaphorically speaking, purchasing a demo unit is the equivalent of purchasing an affordable modern luxury car that has less than 5,000 miles on it.
Locating a demo unit, which is ready for purchase, can be a bit tricky for manufacturers, but also absolutely feasible if you're timeline for ownership is flexible. The first step in your search for pre-owned equipment should be contacting the manufacturer and inquiring about the availability of a demo unit. Start this inquiry long before you actually need the item, so you can maintain flexibility in your timeline. In the end, your patience will be rewarded with a practically new unit for almost half the cost.

4 Inspect before purchase

Often times the ophthalmic equipment supplier is located out-of-state. As a result, you won't get the opportunity to inspect the device until it arrives at your practice.

To avoid a dissatisfactory transaction, hold full payment on your new equipment until you've ensured the serial number matches the one from the seller and the device's appearance and function — especially its recalibration — meet your expectations. Recalibration is necessary to ensure the device provides accurate, reliable and reproducible clinical data.

If you're not purchasing the device directly from the manufacturer, contact their technical department prior to delivery to determine whether they've recalibrated the device for your use (you'll need the item's serial number). If they can't confirm recalibration, ask whether it's possible for an outside source to successfully recalibrate the device. (In some cases, only the manufacturer's engineers have the necessary skills and equipment to accomplish this task.) If the manufacturer must recalibrate the device, ask to see documentation from your equipment supplier stating either the manufacturer has or will come to your office to recalibrate the unit upon delivery. If the manufacturer confirms that the ophthalmic equipment supplier's representative can recalibrate the device upon delivery, have him or her provide you with documentation ensuring the device has been correctly calibrated. If you don't receive either type of documentation before purchasing, this should raise a red flag.

5 Trust your gut

If something concerning the above pearls makes you uncomfortable, don't hesitate to walk away, and find another opportunity.

In periods of technological advancement and new equipment model releases, several eyecare entities are eager to move older equipment models, creating a market influx of pre-owned, discounted equipment; all of which need a home. The bottom line: Another pre-owned device is available to meet your needs.

Purchasing pre-owned equipment can be an excellent alternative to buying new equipment, allowing you to simultaneously modernize your practice while preserving precious capital. By following the five aforementioned purchasing tips, you have an excellent chance of avoiding the associated pitfalls and reaping the benefits of this all too often unexplored and beneficial arena. OM

Dr. Bucca is the chief of diabetic eye care and fundus photography at the Retinopathy Reading Center at the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes. Also, he's an instructor in the departments of Pediatric and Ophthalmology, where he conducts clinical research. E-mail him at

Optometric Management, Issue: May 2009