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The Importance of Uninterrupted Power in Hospitals

The importance of power in the healthcare industry extends beyond the traditional uptime requirements of other economic sectors; within hospitals and other medical applications, power represents the true lifeblood of operations. While just a few seconds of downtime can cost a business hundreds of thousands of dollars, in the medical world, a power loss can threaten lives ― interfering with critical equipment and processes that medical personnel rely on to keep hospital patients safe and secure.

Even when the stakes aren’t life and death, power outages are a bitter pill to swallow for today’s hospital administrators. With technology now driving healthcare practices, power problems have the ability to induce significant pain across the medical industry, including interrupting patient care, damaging vital equipment and injuring an organization’s reputation. To help ensure ongoing, uninterrupted services, it is essential that hospitals deploy a highly reliable emergency power backup solution.

Why Reliable Energy Matters in a Hospital

While downtime costs can be exorbitant throughout all sectors of the economy, in hospitals the toll is especially great. A 2016 Ponemon Institute study estimated the average cost of a healthcare outage at $7,900 per minute ― a price tag that has continued to rise. Even more, the consequences of downtime in a hospital have the propensity to extend beyond numbers, as potential loss of life is a figure that cannot even begin to be calculated. Healthcare facilities must also factor in the ramifications of any HIPAA violations resulting from a power loss.

Imagine the potential ramifications of even a brief power failure within a hospital. Without a sufficient and reliable backup power source in place, an extensive range of life support and critical medical equipment could fail if a facility loses power, leaving patients whose lives depend on ventilators, dialysis machines and other medical devices in jeopardy. In operating rooms, anesthesia machines, surgical lighting and heart rate monitors could shut off with patients on the tables. Without sufficient emergency power systems, medication dispensaries could fail to open, and medications that require specific temperature thresholds in freezers or refrigerators could be jeopardized.

Meanwhile, in radiology departments, a power outage that disrupts magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT) scans could require tests to be repeated, hindering the speed of diagnostics and putting patients at risk for additional exposure to radiation. Not to mention the resulting delay in services; because CT scanners and MRIs are particularly susceptible to power loss, it can take one to two hours to bring systems back online when they go down. The hospital lab is another area that is particularly vulnerable during power cuts, as reagents in freezers and refrigerators have specific temperature thresholds, as do refrigerated blood products in blood banking areas. And don’t forget the hospital data center, which is responsible for critical functions such as maintaining patient data and keeping communications systems up and running.

Outages not only compromise patient safety but can take a huge toll on a hospital’s bottom line. Consider the fact that ultrasounds, MRIs, CTs and X-rays not only provide crucial diagnostic and treatment capabilities, but generate significant revenue, as well. When these imaging systems go down during a power outage, it not only hinders emergency diagnostics but the ability to complete many routine checkups and minor procedures. Unexpected outages may also force hospitals to turn away new patients, transfer existing patients and reschedule elective surgeries.

What Can Interrupt Power in a Hospital?

Like many of today’s market segments, electrical installations in hospitals are susceptible to a wide range of threats, including seasonal storms, natural disasters, grid overdemand, aging infrastructure, equipment malfunctions and even malicious intent.

It isn’t only complete blackouts that can wreak havoc with a hospital’s operations. Although modern healthcare facilities rely on numerous voltage-sensitive devices that require clean, consistent power at all times, utility companies are often unable to deliver the quality needed by much of this equipment, such as MRIs and CTs. While manufacturers of sensitive electronic medical equipment generally specify certain power requirements, such as eliminating electrical line noise and maintaining voltage within +10%, devices that gather images have even tighter voltage specifications of +2% ― requirements that hospital electrical environments often cannot provide.

In addition, modern electronics can place a substantial drain on power supplies, making them more susceptible to power-related issues and leaving critical equipment further at risk. For example, the dynamic power demands of diagnostic imaging systems rank among the leading culprits of power issues. Although they don’t consume a lot of power when idle, their maximum power demand during a scan can reach up to 200 kVA for 10 to 50 milliseconds. These abrupt spikes in current can not only damage equipment but result in an outage.

Furthermore, power surges are a regular occurrence in every electrical environment, leading to system lock-ups and equipment damage. In medical facilities, surges can degrade equipment such as lighting, HVAC, elevator controls and chiller systems, sparking problems that could be life-threatening.

Types of Backup Power for Hospitals

When it comes to protecting hospital environments against downtime threats, the optimal life-support system is a multi-pronged emergency power approach. This should include a combination of uninterrupted power supply (UPS) systems, emergency generators, paralleling switchgear and transfer switches. Designed to work together to provide instantaneous power during an outage ― and then supply the hospital’s electrical needs until utility power is restored ― this type of solution represents the best Rx for hospitals to provide exceptional patient care, protect hygienic environments, and securely perform tests and procedures.

With lives at stake, it’s not surprising that hospital emergency power systems are regulated by industry codes and standards. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Life Safety Code, NFPA 101, specifies that any medical-care facility with life-support dependent patients must install and maintain emergency power solutions. Furthermore, both the NFPA and National Electrical Code require healthcare and critical-care facilities to restore power to any life-critical equipment within 10 seconds of an outage. To prevent any interruption, a UPS solution is needed to bridge the gap between utility failure and generator start-up. In addition, backup generators must have enough fuel to operate at full capacity for at least two hours, per NFPA 70 requirements. The NFPA requirement also specifies regularly scheduled backup power system tests using qualified repair and maintenance personnel.

While hospitals rely on different kinds of generators to supply backup power, the most commonly used is a high-efficiency diesel generator. Gas units comprise a small fraction of emergency generator use, and mobile generators are sometimes brought in as a secondary power source for a backup system. These generators can be transported to a hospital facility to supplement a permanent generator being taken offline for maintenance or repair.

Other Healthcare Applications Requiring Backup Power

Across numerous hospital applications, it’s clear that even a few seconds without power can result in compromised patient care, equipment damage and significant costs. In addition to more than 6,200 hospitals across the country, there are tens of thousands of independent doctors’ offices, imaging centers and other healthcare entities that maintain sensitive medical devices requiring continuous clean power. UPS systems are an essential component within these critical spaces, where the consequences of power failures are potentially deadly. For instance:

Outpatient surgery centers

A wide variety of surgical procedures now occur outside of hospitals, including orthopedic, cosmetic and endoscopy procedures. Surgical equipment, anesthesia machines and ventilators are common points requiring emergency power in order to ensure safety.

Clinical laboratories

These environments support a variety of equipment that requires UPS protection, such as blood analyzers and pathology equipment relied upon for key diagnostics. In the event of a blackout, specimens could be destroyed.

Skilled nursing facilities

Residents who use oxygen and other medical equipment rely on continuous power. Although there is no federal law requiring backup generators in nursing homes, some states do require them.

Cardiology labs

Although cardiology labs were historically supported by a building generator, today it is normal practice to include UPS protection in order to assure uptime during the transfer time to a generator. Without it, labs will experience a hard shut-down that requires a lengthy system reboot. UPS protection enables cardiologists to continue procedures without interruption.

Call Unified Power for Emergency UPS Repair Services

Although no organization is immune to power anomalies, a properly designed backup power solution will go a long way toward maintaining safety in healthcare applications. With more than two decades of experience, the experts at Unified Power can help you design the optimal backup power solution for your critical hospital or healthcare facility ― or determine if your existing solution provides sufficient backup power.

Providing nationwide critical power equipment and service maintenance ― including UPSs, battery systems, backup generators and DC power plants ― our preventive maintenance services will help your facility avoid unplanned downtime and costly repairs by providing the opportunity to catch potential issues early on. In addition, these services ensure that you remain compliant with the requirements of the NFPA 110 code for generator services and power supply system testing. Call us today to get started.

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