Article Date: 3/1/2010

New or Used: That Is the Question
Tech Connection

New or Used: That Is the Question

Here are some guidelines to help you decide what's best for you and your practice.

By Neil Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Munster, Indiana

Whether you're setting up a new practice or investing in a new instrument for an existing practice, the question of new versus used often comes up. Or at least it should. Buying used equipment is a great way to save money, but it's not as simple as always buying used or always buying new. I've done it both ways and I've made my share of instrument-buying mistakes, so I'll share my thoughts here on how to do it right.

There are no hard-and-fast rules, but for some general direction, ask yourself a few key questions.

What's the predicted life of the instrument?

If the instrument has a long predicted life and long-term mechanical durability and capacity for data, give one point for used. If the technology is changing fast and recent breakthroughs have occurred, give a point for new. For example, standard phoroptors™ often last 30 years or more, and they're still in great demand. OCT technology is changing fairly quickly. A chair and stand is durable, while a visual field device can have breakdowns.

Is it likely to need service?

Evaluate if the instrument is complex and ask colleagues and instrument dealers if repairs are frequent. If a used device is available, is it still under warranty or can a warranty be purchased? If you must purchase, is it pricey? Will the manufacturer stand behind it if you buy it used? Who will repair it? If it's digital, is the computer separate or integrated? Integrated PCs are more difficult to repair or replace and you must have a qualified repair technician handle the work. Some integrated systems are based on old technology and capacity. Give a point to new or used based on whether you feel safe with occasional repairs or better off with the service contracts that accompany new devices.

How does the used device look to the patient?

If it looks out of date to a layperson, give a point to new.

How big are the savings?

If the savings are substantial, used gets a point or maybe even two points. A savings of 10% doesn't justify taking a risk on a used device, but 25% does — and 50% is hard to resist. If it's fairly easy to find the item on the used market, it's likely you'll get a very good deal. In addition to price, consider whether you plan to finance the equipment. Does the new or used equipment fit your financing plans? Give a point to the option that best fits your finances.

Do you need installation and setup help?

This doesn't really help you choose new or used, but it's an important consideration. Be aware that unexpected complications are common, and putting a slit lamp on an instrument arm may be harder than you think. Ask about help that may be available if problems occur. Inquire about manufacturer policies in case you aren't satisfied. Consider your instrument dealer a trusted advisor; form a long-term relationship based on trust and loyalty. A trusted instrument specialist will prove invaluable over the years.

Add It Up

In the end, just add up the points and use your best judgment, and you'll do fine. nOD

Dr. Gailmard is in group private practice in Munster, Ind. He is president of Gailmard Consulting. E-mail him at

Optometric Management, Issue: March 2010