A Battle Fought from Afar

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Scheduling may seem mundane, but not for people trying to tackle a cancer diagnosis. In fact, as they rely on strict regimens of treatments to improve their health and hopefully eradicate the disease from their bodies, scheduling is critical. The treatments have to be delivered on time for the best chance at recovery—even survival. Yet the equipment involved—typically radiation-oncology machines—doesn’t always abide by doctors’ and patients’ schedules.

That’s the cue for Varian Medical Systems, a Palo Alto, Calif.–based manufacturer of medical devices providing equipment for radiation-oncology treatment to those who need it most. Varian provides equipment to medical practitioners worldwide. “Our job is time-sensitive in that the radiation needs to be applied at specific times during the treatment cycle,” explains Dan DuBeau, Varian’s program manager for remote access and protection of mission-critical applications. “If you have to wait a day because the equipment is down, you can reschedule the patient, but it interferes with the effectiveness of the treatment…. We have to bring the machine back up as quickly as possible.”

Since there are no representatives for Varian in close proximity to its more-distant locations, remote service has always been important. DuBeau says the company previously used Symantec’s pcAnywhere, but the setup soon began falling short of Varian’s own strict time demands. “Since the servers were set up with remote-access server modems, it was difficult to keep track of [service requests], numbers were hard to find, and the connection was slow,” DuBeau says. “More hospitals were going to [Private Branch Exchange] systems and it was harder to get a handle line to the server.”

Recognizing the company needed to act quickly to bolster its remote service, DuBeau says his department searched for new solutions—Axeda, Questra, and Cisco Systems’ WebEx were all in the running. “WebEx’s solution was interesting to us,” he recalls. “However, it didn’t allow us to proactively monitor and send alerts when certain events occurred. So basically it was between Axeda and Questra.” (Ironically, Axeda acquired Questra this past December, for an undisclosed amount.)

Axeda, a Foxboro, Mass.–based provider of remote monitoring and device relationship management, won out thanks to what DuBeau calls the best array of functionality available, and a willingness to work with Varian on a customized solution including desktop control.

When it came to implementation, DuBeau says that Axeda was welcomed with open arms by radiation-oncology departments quick to realize the value in remote service. That said, it took some convincing to get hospital technology departments to sign on. “To them, it looked like a threat to the [local area network],” he says. “It took time to make them understand the security model associated with this, but the resistance melted away.”

According to Brian Anderson, Axeda’s vice president, being able to proactively monitor equipment that could be thousands of miles away offers a fantastic value proposition, especially during a recession. “It may be a down economy, but we’re still selling software…because we really help in cost savings,” he says. “If you don’t have to send someone in a truck—or even worse, an airplane—to go fix something, there’s a tremendous savings there.”

The cost and time savings are magnified in Varian’s case, according to DuBeau. He says his company has reduced the mean time-to-repair by 50 percent since turning to Axeda. Consequently, with 700 calls resolved remotely per month and four hours’ travel time saved for each call, the reduced service costs—$2,000 for each service issue resolved remotely—can be passed on directly to the customer. “This definitely not only exceeded our expectations, but it took us completely by surprise,” DuBeau admits.

The benefits come at the right time for Varian, as the company continues to grow at what even DuBeau calls an unusually fast clip: 18 percent per quarter. “The mandate is out there and we are installing software in more places as we get to it,” he says. “This has a lot to do with our extra focus and close partnership with Axeda.” 

By remotely improving service with Axeda, Varian has:

  • reduced mean time-to-repair by 50 percent;
  • averaged 700 calls resolved remotely per month;
  • saved four hours of travel time for each call; and
  • reduced service costs by $2,000 for each problem resolved remotely.

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