Keeping an eye on critical power: tackling risk in hospitals


    When uptime is a matter of life and death, it is vital to have visibility of power performance. Power monitoring is crucial  for protecting patients  undergoing surgery, but  it can also save hospitals money. Louise Frampton speaks to Markus Hirschbold, systems architect, Schneider Electric, about the importance of ensuring safety and  operational efficiency in healthcare

    In mission critical sectors, such as healthcare, ensuring the reliability of electrical infrastructure can be a matter of life and death. While serious incidents are rare, in the past decade, there have been some high-profile reports of back-up power failures, resulting in surgeons being forced to operate by torchlight and staff having to “manually suck fluid from the lungs of patients in intensive care” (BBC, 19 August 2010).

    Ageing infrastructure and strained maintenance budgets mean there is an increasing need for hospitals to be vigilant and to ensure they do not hit the headlines for failures in their critical power infrastructure.

    Digitised power distribution

    Increased visibility of performance of electrical systems is critical to protect patients, as well as hospitals’ reputations. Software solutions, such as Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure, are now available which can provide an insight into every aspect of electrical distribution within hospitals, to improve patient safety and operational efficiency.

    “A quick glance of the dashboard on a modern vehicle can provide an understanding of exactly what is going on with your car – from the pressure in the tyres, engine temperature and speed, to whether you are getting too close to another vehicle; the automotive sector has embraced digitisation completely, but the electrical distribution world is lagging behind,” says Markus Hirschbold, systems architect, Schneider Electric.

    “Whether it is a breaker tripping, a transformer overheating, or an insulation issue in the operating room, all this data needs to come together in a central location. This level of digitisation is particularly important for an operating room. Patients are more susceptible to electric shock as they lack a protective layer of skin, due to the invasive nature of surgery. 

    “If the surgical equipment is faulty and there is an issue with the insulation, there is the potential for the current to flow through the patient to the ground; if the current is high enough, this could result in serious harm,” comments Hirschbold.

    To prevent this risk, insulation monitoring is performed in theatre and an alarm is sounded if insulation integrity is compromised.

    “The EcoStruxure Power Monitoring Expert software enables the problem to be quickly identified and resolved – it allows the right decisions to be made at the right time,” Hirschbold explains.

    The software also enables condition-based maintenance – particularly important given the prevalence of ageing infrastructure within a cash-strapped NHS. In hospital trusts, preventive maintenance is normally performed at scheduled intervals – ie once a year or once every six months – regardless of whether or not the equipment is in need of maintenance. In some cases, it may be performed too often or not often enough.

    If the usage pattern of a back-up generator shows that it has been used frequently, it may need maintaining more often. Equally, if it is not used enough, it may also require attention. If the equipment is able to indicate when it requires maintenance, based on its usage pattern, maintenance intervals can be optimised, therefore.

    “Condition-based maintenance is all about staff productivity and reducing operating expense (opex). It is about performing the right maintenance, at the right time, in the right place. Healthcare providers are finding that their operating budgets are strained and it is hard to keep up with the demands of preventive maintenance; some ageing equipment is not getting enough attention based on its usage.

    “A move towards condition-based maintenance allows trusts to optimise their maintenance budget, avoid waste and to focus the money that they do have on areas where it is necessary,” says Hirschbold.

    Non-linear loads

    Another trend seen in hospitals is the move towards non-linear loads. This includes LED lighting and variable speed drives, for example.

    “Non-linear loads switch very quickly – you can sometimes see this as flickering in LED lights. This high-speed switching results in harmonics – within the electrical distribution system, this is often the cause of malfunctioning of sensitive medical equipment,” Hirschbold explains.

    “I recently gave a presentation at an international conference in Hong Kong about the experience of a hospital in Canada – they encountered problems with their blood dialysis machines. After an investigation, it was found that the dialysis machines were resetting due to the installation of variable speed drives as part of an energy efficiency project.”

    An expert from Schneider Electric visited the facility and was able to identify the cause of the problem and installed a harmonic filter solution to mitigate the problem. After hearing the story, others came forward at the event and said they were also having similar issues with sensitive medical equipment.

    “By having EcoStruxure Power Monitoring Expert software, such power quality issues can be detected and quickly dealt with before they become an issue and affect critical loads. Ultimately, this can protect lives,” comments Hirschbold.

    Moorfields Eye Hospital

    Moorfields Eye Hospital – the oldest and largest centre for ophthalmic treatment in Europe – specified EcoStruxure Power Monitoring Expert software to help ensure the reliability of the hospital’s critical electrical infrastructure. More than a century old, the hospital’s ageing infrastructure needed updating and several older, but valuable building systems needed to be integrated into a centralised platform. With a worldwide reputation to uphold, the hospital could not afford major disruptions – gaining visibility and control over every aspect of the facility was critical.

    Chris Harding, director of estates and facilities at Moorfields, opted to install EcoStruxure for Healthcare, to manage his facility infrastructure and gain insights into operational efficiency opportunities. EcoStruxure for Healthcare helps make the best of the hospital’s existing infrastructure by integrating the older but valuable building systems into one comprehensive platform.

    Having full visibility into the hospital infrastructure, Harding’s teams can ensure that many aspects of the building, now under control, can monitor and report when outside health and safety compliance. Sensors throughout the facility feed information to the building management system (EcoStruxure Building Operation), giving instant access to critical information 24/7. If an electrical asset goes down anywhere in the hospital, the facility team receives a notification on their phone or laptop, and can immediately react. This reduces the man hours spent maintaining the facility. Insight into the precise energy consumption of the building also helps reduce energy costs during times of low use.

    Most importantly, the system is designed with doctors in mind; the operating theatre panel now provides a clear view of the power and room environment information required to ensure patient and staff safety during surgeries, enabling the eye experts to focus their attention where it is needed most.



    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here