While there’s no denying that power problems have the potential to wreak havoc across virtually every industry, they are an especially bitter pill to swallow in the health care sector. Here, the ability to provide 100% uptime can literally mean the difference between life and death.
Increasingly, technology is helping health care organizations to enhance patient care. But at the same time, technology’s dependence on high-quality electrical input makes maximizing uptime even more essential. Electrical system failures within a health care facility are a diagnosis that administrators need to avoid at all costs, considering the unpleasant — and possibly deadly — outcomes range from compromised patient safety and misdiagnosis to the loss of patient data and expensive equipment downtime.
Why clean power is so vital to health care
Uncompromised power quality is a critical requirement across multiple points of a health care facility, such as operating rooms, nurses’ stations, and radiology and imaging centers. Behind-the-scenes areas are equally vulnerable, such as switch rooms, telecom closets and data centers. Without continuous clean power, medical facilities face an array of devastating consequences, including the loss of respiratory devices and other critical equipment being utilized by patients; the loss of HVAC systems, water pressure, elevators and lighting; the inability to register patients, access electronic patient data, or sterilize instruments; and the inability to access medication, vaccines and other medical supplies in areas where keyless entry is required. And although ensuring patient safety is the No. 1 reason for safeguarding against power anomalies, health care administrators must also consider the bottom line: electrical disturbances can result in hefty costs associated with repeated diagnostic tests, wasted medical supplies, and expensive service and repair calls.
Think your facility is immune to such problems? Consider this: 40 percent of global health care organizations reported that they had experienced an unplanned outage in the past 12 months — at an estimated cost of $432,000 per incident.
Thankfully, a proper power protection solution has the ability to provide medical facilities with a long-term clean bill of health. Increasingly, decision-makers within this sector are supplementing their existing emergency power systems (specified by code and regulation) with uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs), which mitigate damaging power disturbances and provide short-term backup power to bridge the gap until emergency systems come online.
A UPS is at the heart of uptime
While there is no shortage of health care systems that require continuous power, the majority fall into three primary categories: the critical branch (those which directly affect patient wellbeing); the life safety branch (which includes devices such as lighting, exit signs, powered doors and fire alarms); and the equipment branch (which encompasses “elective” devices like radiology equipment, non-patient care HVAC units and chillers, for example).
Although emergency power is required by the National Electric Code (NEC) for systems whose operations are essential for safety of human life, the specification is that the power be available within 10 seconds of an outage. In the past, it was acceptable to endure the 10-second delay between a power outage and the time it took for a generator to power on. Yet today’s standards for patient care demand zero delay, prompting modern health care facilities to implement equipment and redundancy schemes to ensure there is no interruption to patient care, equipment availability, and data storage or data access, even for a matter of seconds.
UPSs offer an effective treatment plan to ensure continuous power within the health care industry. These systems not only provide high availability to a facility in the event of an unplanned outage, but also mitigate electrical disturbances — both utility-generated and those actually created by medical equipment such as diagnostic imaging systems.
Double-conversion and parallel online UPSs offer two approaches to protect health care systems. Completely isolating equipment from unconditioned utility power, a double-conversion UPS first converts the power from AC to DC electricity, and then back again into a conditioned AC signal, delivering conditioned power to the load even during normal operation when no disturbances are present. The majority of double conversion systems rely on valve-regulated lead acid (VRLA) batteries to provide the energy storage used to bridge to emergency power.
In a parallel online UPS, the inverter and charger circuitry or transformers operate in parallel with the AC utility, which allows the UPS to compensate for over- or under-voltages in the incoming utility power to eliminate transients, voltage fluctuations and other disturbances. When utility power is unavailable or reaches unacceptable limits, this type of UPS enters stored energy mode, disconnecting the load from utility power and rerouting it to backup power.
Ensure your UPS maintains healthy vitals
Regardless of the type of UPS selected to safeguard health care systems, it is imperative that the equipment receive an annual physical exam by a professionally trained service technician. In addition to regularly scheduled UPS maintenance, officials should also routinely test and monitor the health of the UPS batteries to ensure it will perform as expected when needed. Because in the health care industry, you never know when clean, continuous power could mean the difference between life and death.
In our next installment of this series, we will examine the need for power protection within the data center environment.
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