Occasionally, I provide training on electrical wiring in healthcare facilities, and frequently I am asked about the requirements for hospital-grade receptacles. One individual recently indicated that the medical building’s patient-care areas are being wired using hospital MC cable. The designer did not specify hospital-grade receptacles for the job, and there are no beds in the treatment or examining rooms. The rooms are just used for exams. So, in this case, does the National Electrical Code (NEC) require hospital-grade receptacles at the receptacle outlets?
The short answer is no. The NEC generally does not require hospital-grade receptacles for exam rooms in medical buildings. Keep in mind that owner or engineering specifications may be more restrictive than the NEC’s minimum requirements; therefore, hospital-grade receptacles may be a specification or design requirement, which may exceed the minimum NEC rules. Hospital-grade receptacles are identified with a green dot on the face of the receptacle, and the words “hospital-grade” usually are stamped on the device’s mounting strap.
To provide a thorough response, let’s review several key NEC rules. First, let’s look at the requirements for hospital-grade receptacles in Article 517.
The NEC requires listed hospital-grade receptacles in patient bed locations of general care areas as indicated in 517.18(B). A minimum of four such receptacles must be provided. The NEC also requires hospital-grade receptacles in patient bed locations of critical-care areas as indicated in 517.19(B)(2). A minimum of six hospital-grade receptacles must be provided for a critical-care patient bed location. These are the only two of three locations in Article 517 that require receptacles that are listed and identified as “hospital-grade.” The third section deals with anesthetizing locations in Part IV of Article 517.
Examining rooms in medical buildings or doctor’s offices typically do not qualify as patient bed locations, and Section 517.2 clarifies this rule as follows: “Patient Bed Location. The location of a patient sleeping bed, or the bed or procedure table of a critical care area. [99:3.3.137]”
The key point in this definition that excludes examining rooms from the hospital-grade requirement is that examining rooms are usually not classified as critical-care locations. The healthcare facility’s governing body typically designates the type of care administered in various locations or rooms in its facility. Critical-care locations are defined in 517.2 if additional clarification is necessary as to what constitutes critical care. There is a clear differentiation between a general patient-care area and a critical-care area as defined in Section 517.2. Examining rooms in medical buildings generally qualify as patient-care areas by definition.
The primary reason to use a hospital-grade receptacle at a patient bed location is to ensure that a receptacle with a greater contact tension is provided to minimize possibilities that an attachment plug supplying medical or life support equipment may be disconnected because the attachment plug slipped out of the receptacle.
Another important consideration is what type of equipment will be connected to the receptacle. Some types of medical equipment include a manufacturer marking that indicates that proper grounding can only be ensured where connected to a hospital-grade receptacle. In this case, if one knows that this type of equipment is going to be used, 110.3(B) requires a hospital-grade receptacle because of the installation instructions and recommendations from the medical equipment manufacturer. Of course, many medical equipment manufacturers do not know where the equipment will be used, so they include this marking as a general production requirement to protect their own liabilities.
The question indicated that hospital MC cable that is suitable for use in patient-care locations—meeting the requirements in 517.13(A) and (B)—is installed. This is a requirement for patient-care locations. The branch circuits serving those areas meet the redundant grounding requirements in 517.13. Based on the information provided, use of hospital-grade receptacles is optional and not a requirement for the examining rooms in question because there are no patient bed locations (as defined) in these rooms. The owner, engineer or design specification may require hospital-grade receptacles, and it can trump the NEC’s minimums. As always, it is a good practice to include the authority having jurisdiction in such decisions.