Continual improvements in life expectancy and reduced infant mortality are a result of dedicated healthcare workers and, in part, the array of sophisticated electronic equipment used. But such improvements do not come without a price:

  • Electronic medical systems now account for approximately 70 percent of total capital expense in a hospital,” said Farah Saeed, program manager for backup power solutions at Frost & Sullivan, Palo Alto, Calif. “Hospitals invest millions of dollars in highly sensitive medical-imaging equipment.”

  • These [medical imaging] systems are very sensitive to electrical noise, power shortages and glitches, and brownouts,” said Mike Habibi, technical support manager, MGE UPS Systems, Costa Mesa, Calif.

  • The loss of revenue for freestanding imaging centers might be $2,000 per hour or more due to loss of productivity,” said Bob Thomas, general manager, Rx Monitoring Services, Bedford, N.H.

As hospitals expand to address growing medical needs, the electrical infrastructure does not always keep pace with the quality of supply and the energy demands for the equipment and facility. Imaging equipment impacts power quality significantly within medical centers and also is a significant victim of power quality disturbances. Imaging equipment draws large inrush currents and can cause significant ground currents, voltage sags and harmonics throughout the facility, affecting equipment in ICUs and for data processing. In addition, the voltage “stiffness” of the older hospitals may not even be adequate to keep the supply voltage within the tolerances the imaging equipment requires.

It isn’t just the cost of downtime that affects revenue significantly. Habibi said, with poor power quality, the equipment can be damaged and the readouts affected. Additionally, power fluctuations can produce possible imaging errors.

“Electrical noise and transients on the line can cause ‘artifacts’ in the digital image, which may result in misdiagnoses,” said Kevin Harris, marketing manager, TEAL Electronics Corp., San Diego. “Patient disruption due to power problems should be avoided … . Rescheduling is financially costly. Loss of patient confidence is immeasurable.”

Some facilities and equipment have remote monitoring capability, where the manufacturer, utility engineer and facilities manager can all look at the same data simultaneously to determine what happened and why. Knowing why the process was interrupted or compromised, and getting it back in service as soon as possible, keeps the revenue stream flowing and allows for proper and timely patient treatment.

For constant documentation of medical conditions, data centers and local area networks connecting remote PCs and terminals are integral to the healthcare process. These systems must be adequately protected against any power quality disturbance that would disrupt the process and/or corrupt the data. Backup power systems must operate 100 percent reliably and for long term, which means generators must be tested periodically. Monitoring the generators’ performance during tests, especially real or full load tests, is critical to finding problems. For example, consider cases where equipment thought to be running off critical power backup systems was not available when a real power interruption occurred. Likewise, there have been noncritical loads that shouldn’t have been connected to the backup power systems but were. This can jeopardize the patients on life support and critical care monitoring systems as well as shorten the backup systems’ run time by draining power capacity.

Stringent rules, such as those in NFPA 99 and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) 60601-1, govern hospitals, imaging centers and anywhere interaction between electricity and the patient occurs. For example, leakage current is required to be 10 times lower with equipment in such facilities than standard commercial-grade equipment, and insulation resistance must be maintained at specified levels. Periodic verification is very important to prevent what are often called “stray voltage” conditions in the utility world. Proper documentation and continual monitoring can alert the facilities’ personnel to problems before they degrade to the point of compromising life safety.

Cost containment is important, especially as rising healthcare costs continue to far outpace inflation. Knowing where the energy is being used, how it can be used more efficiently and what equipment can be replaced with more efficient units is as important in healthcare as in other industries. Most medical centers are 24/7 facilities, which means the payback for employing energy-efficient measures can happen even faster than in a normal 8-to-5-type business.

By heeding this prescription for improved reliability, decreased costs, and a proactive preventative electrical equipment and infrastructure maintenance program, keeping heartbeats going while lowering healthcare costs can become a reality.

BINGHAM, a contributing editor for power quality, can be reached at 732.287.3680.