The Smart Magazine About Medical Technology Innovations

#7 - Sustainable Health Systems

New generation of medical equipment learns how to spare electricity

Brimming with lights, scanners, machines, heaters, washers and computers of every description, most of which are on all the time, hospitals are massive electricity consumers. With tight budgets and the planet’s resources dwindling, the race to reduce energy consumption is heating up.

Hospitals are employing a range of measures to lower electricity usage, for example using more efficient equipment, recycling energy wherever possible and changing behaviors.

Savings through efficiency

ME#7_using-led-technology-in-hospitalsAll the major manufacturers of hospital lighting systems are aware that they must meet the lighting requirements for the different clinical situations, must accommodate patient needs, assuaging fears and anxiety, while at the same time reducing both electricity and maintenance costs.

One of the current solutions on the market is to replace incandescent or fluorescent lamps with LED (light emitting diode) lamps, which consume less energy, have longer lifetimes and are more robust, thus reducing both electricity and maintenance costs.

The drawback is that they are considerably more expensive than the alternatives. Major healthcare lighting companies, including Cree, GE, Philips and Siemens all offer LED solutions that claim to reduce electricity consumption and are intended to promote feelings of warmth and security in patients. Siemens actually offers a range of colored lighting schemes for scanner rooms to assuage patient anxiety.

ME#7_amiraNew generations of devices are also being developed that are more sparing with electricity. One example already on the market is the Magnetom Amira from Siemens. It can achieve meaningful reductions in electricity consumption by automatically switching to a standby mode when not in use.

Jane Kilkenny, MR Product Manager at Siemens Healthcare explains, “Magnetom Amira is the first Siemens MRI scanner to be equipped with our Eco-Power technology, which monitors and controls the state of the helium that’s responsible for cooling the magnet. It’s activated during standby mode, monitoring the liquefaction cycle and managing the cooling and helium re-liquefaction process more efficiently. This means that a power saving of up to 30% can be achieved in standby mode compared to when the feature is not activated.”

In terms of computer servers and data storage centers, one solution to turning them off is to not have them at all. By migrating medical data storage to third-party storage centers – cloud storage – hospitals can avoid the power, security, cooling and maintenance costs of keeping their own server rooms. Meanwhile, the economies of scale and greater storage efficiencies at the major cloud storage companies mean that the overall energy consumption is actually reduced, not simply shifted elsewhere.


Savings through energy recycling

At the actual building level, low energy consumption is a now a standard consideration in hospital design. For example, engineering firms such as the US-based Johnson Controls offers Healthcare Environment Optimization, a system designed to reduce the energy costs through better management of air flow systems in operating theatres.

ME#7_self-powered-steppers-and-bikesSofame Technologies in Quebec is installing their Percotherm direct-contact stack economizer in Montreal’s new CHUM teaching hospital. Percotherm captures residual heat from boilers and flue gases, transferring it to cool water systems.

In some cases, energy is even being recycled from people themselves. Exercise equipment manufacturer Matrix provides for example high-quality exercise bikes and stepping machines that are completely self-powered and cord-free, providing cost-savings and freedom of placement within the facility.


Savings through behavior change

In all hospitals energy is also wasted by electrical equipment being left on or by doors being left open. This is generally regarded as both insignificant and unavoidable. However, an initiative launched at Barts NHS Trust showed that it is neither.

Barts NHS Trust manages 5 London hospitals, with an annual electricity bill of around 16 500 000 euros. In 2012, in partnership with Global Action Plan, Skanska and GE, Barts launched an electricity saving program called TLC: T – turn off equipment, L – switch off lights, C – close doors. By making staff aware of needless energy consumption, Barts had been able to achieve energy savings of around 500 000 euros and have identified opportunities that could bring the total savings up to 1 100 000 euros. Aside from cost savings, patients benefited through initiatives like the implementation of a ward ‘quiet time’ with visitors shooed away and lights dimmed. Patients reported improved privacy and better sleep.

As Fiona Daly, Head of Sustainability at Barts explains, “Operation TLC is about helping staff use the buildings in a way that creates the best healing environment for patients. By engaging staff to become enthusiastic advocates for turning off lights and small equipment and closing doors, we’ve managed to save the Trust 600 000 euros a year at same time as improving patient satisfaction and reducing sleep disruption. By focusing on improving the patient experience, clinical staff are driving the changes and becoming advocates for the project.”

About the Author

Guy Ramsay is a South African medical writer.

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