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Used Medical Imaging Systems: What if the Seller Removes the Hard Drive?

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If you're reading this article, there's a good chance you've heard that hospitals sometimes remove and destroy hard drives from imaging systems when they resell them to make sure patient data is protected. Well, you've heard correctly. This is frequently the case with equipment being sold out of use in an institutional or government-run facility. While this procedure does guarantee that personal information is protected, unfortunately, it takes all the operating software and protocols that are on the hard drives too.

How big of a problem is hard drive removal? Will the system be little more than spare parts? Will it cost thousands of dollars to restore it to working order? These are all questions we've heard, asked, and resolved before, so we're going to share with you how we overcome this obstacle when it arises and why it shouldn't keep you from considering used systems.

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Ask if It's Necessary

As equipment users, dealers, and service providers, we know that it's not technically necessary to remove and destroy a hard drive to erase patient data. In some settings, hard drive removal is a matter of course, a de facto standard operating procedure instituted to remove all liability related to the transmission of personal data. In government hospitals, it's typically a hard-line policy.

If you're looking into purchasing a piece of used equipment, it can't hurt to ask if the hard drives absolutely must removed or if it would be acceptable to the seller for a professional service engineer to erase the data using the OEM-recommended method but leave the essential operating files intact. If this is okayed by the seller, it can save time, money, and hassle while still protecting sensitive patient data. If it turns out that the seller does intend to remove the hard drives, it's always better to have that disclosed up front so preparations can be made to compensate for it.

If It Is Necessary

In a situation where the seller of a system we're interested in is required to remove its hard drive, there are a few things we've found helpful that you can keep in mind as well:

It’s not hard to buy new hard drives. A computer hard drive is an easy-to-find, inexpensive component- even unusually-sized drives like 9GB or 36GB.

Software can be reloaded on most models. On all but the newest models (the last two or three years) that are locked down by some manufacturers, most field service engineers are capable of reloading operating software.

The "erase and copy" method is simple to execute. In this scenario, prior to deinstallation, an engineer can erase the patient data and copy the necessary operating files over to a new drive, leaving the old hard drive for the seller to shred, crush, or use for target practice.

The Takeaway

In the end, is hard drive removal an inconvenient extra hurdle? Yes. Does it reduce the value of an otherwise functional system? Yes. Is it a high enough hurdle to be a dealbreaker in an otherwise win/win sale? Usually not. The buyer just needs time for an engineer to make backups of the software and do the operating software transfer while the unit is still installed and capable of being run.

If you are purchasing a used or refurbished system from Block Imaging that you learned had the hard drives removed, never fear.  We've given the seller less value and spent the difference to ensure the software was reloaded fresh for you. You won't experience a difference in system functionality, the original seller will have zero HIPAA concerns, and the equipment can have a second chance at life serving patients!