Phone and Stethoscope

Episode 184: Project BioMed – The Fight to Repair Medical Devices

In this episode of the podcast (#184) Kyle Wiens of iFixit joins us to talk about Project BioMed: an international, crowd-sourced effort to expedite repair of medical devices by making service and repair manuals available online. In our second segment, we speak with Jonathan Krones, one of an army of volunteer engineers, archivists and librarians who took on the task of cataloguing medical device repair information.

Global crises like the current COVID pandemic have a way of turning unlikely figures into heroes. Witness the daily homages of clapping hands and banging pots showered upon nurses, doctors, physicians assistants and other hospital staff as they change shifts at hospitals struggling to treat the COVID sickened. 

Medical Device Repair On Life Support

Kyle Wiens, iFixit
Kyle Wiens is the founder of iFixit.

But another quiet hero might be the figure of the Biomedical technicians who have rushed into storage closets to rescue, repair and restore old ventilators and other medical equipment needed to keep desperately ill COVID victims alive. 

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For one thing, COVID patients increased the demands on equipment like ventilators beyond what is normally expected of them. COVID patients would often stay on ventilators for weeks or more before healing enough to be weened from them. All that increased use led to increased breakdowns and failures  of the equipment itself, even while any excess equipment was pressed into use. 

“Like all great political fights, this boils down to money behind the scenes.”

– Kyle Wiens, iFixit and Project BioMed.

Alas, one of the less reported stories of this pandemic is the ways in which changes to the medical device market and increasingly draconian software licensing practices by OEMs have made servicing and repairing medical devices much more difficult

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In this podcast, part of a series of podcasts we’re doing highlighting the global fight for the right to repair, we are shining a light on one effort to get biomedical technicians the tools and information they need to keep life sustaining devices running. 

Our first guest, Kyle Wiens, is the founder of the web site iFixit. With COVID starting to spread and reports coming from countries like Italy about shortages of ventilators, Wiens and his company sprang into action and launched Project BioMed: an extensive, crowdsourced effort involving hundreds of librarians and archivists to collect, catalog and publish service and repair manuals for thousands of medical devices. 

Wiens tells us that COVID has exposed a growing effort by medical device OEMs to deny hospitals and biomedical technicians access to the information they need to service equipment. 

On the Front Lines: Cataloging Medical Device Repair

Up Next, Jonathan Krones is well known in the Boston area as an organizer of repair cafes and fixit events. This spring, however, Krones – who is on the faculty of Boston College – was among hundreds of librarians and archivists from more than 100 institutions who heeded calls from iFixit or the American Library Association to join Project BioMed, a community effort to catalog hundreds of thousands of pages of medical device documentation and service manuals. 

Jonathan Krones, Boston College

In this conversation, Jonathan and I talk about that effort and about the larger issue of access to repair information.

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One realization that Krones had as a Project BioMed volunteer is that not all repair and servicing documentation is equal and that – over time – the quality and quantity of repair information published by medical device makers has deteriorated.

 As always,  you can check our full conversation in our latest Security Ledger podcast at Blubrry. You can also listen to it on iTunes and check us out on SoundCloudStitcherRadio Public and more. Also: if you enjoy this podcast, consider signing up to receive it in your email. Just point your web browser to to get notified whenever a new podcast is posted.