Towards better- performing hospitals

Not only can a modern and well managed HVAC infrastructure in hospitals improve patients care, but it can also dramatically reduce energy costs. Chris Needham of Schneider Electric shares his experiences.

Hospitals are the second most energy-intensive buildings to run after restaurants. Globally, the cost of operating healthcare sites, including energy costs, are on the rise. Whether building a new hospital or retrofitting an existing facility, hospitals are under mounting pressure to do more with less, while also complying with strict regulations, ever-changing technology, plus health and safety measures.

The Centre for Sustainable Energy recently found that UK hospitals are one of the highest average carbon-dioxide emitters in the country. In fact, energy alone makes up almost one quarter of the National Health Service’s carbon footprint.

At the core of this efficiency problem are outdated and siloed processes, along with legacy systems. Fortunately, new advances in technology make it possible to integrate traditionally separate facility systems together to form an ‘intelligent’ hospital infrastructure. As a result, significant improvements in patient safety and outcomes and reductions in operational costs are possible.

Through the use of intelligent infrastructure, hospitals can manage everything from HVAC to lighting to CCTV, patient journeys and valuable medical equipment assets. This improves both the environment of care and the bottom line. It’s vital that these platforms are flexible, scalable and repeatable, whilst delivering the right information, to the right people, at the right time.

Acting as a central nervous system for the hospital an intelligent technology infrastructure integrates traditionally disparate systems. Power, building management, security and IT can be integrated to enable cross-system communication, as well as real-time monitoring, optimisation and automation.

When a hospital’s systems can talk’ with one another without the need for complex interfaces, the resilience of the infrastructure as a whole is strengthened and provides access to greater information and intelligence, leading to more effective use of all resources.

Additionally, actionable information and real insight can be provided by tools like Schneider Electric’s Power Monitoring Expert to help manage power quality performance, and improve financial performance, energy availability and patient safety in healthcare facilities. Constant power monitoring that provides real time status is vital to ensure network recovery time is reduced in case of a fault. This includes identifying and focusing on the most sensitive parts of the network as well as ensuring that standby systems are consistently and effectively tested, thereby reinforcing predictive maintenance

Effectively managing HVAC systems is the foundation for taking control of energy usage in a building and optimising environments for enhanced performance and energy efficiency. In hospitals they are a vital part of the infrastructure and very high standards of design and operation are mandated as part of the Government’s ‘Health technical memorandum 00’.

HVAC controls connect to and are controlled by building management systems (BMSs) and respond to environmental conditions such as temperature, moisture and CO2. In hospitals, certain types of rooms have specialist HVAC pressure requirements. For example, operating rooms and intensive-care units may employ a positive-pressure regime to reduce the risk of airborne infection, while isolation rooms may require negative pressure to prevent the spread of airborne pathogens.

As HVAC is often responsible for over 40% of energy usage in any given building, in hospitals particularly it is one of the areas where the most savings can be made. These savings vary depending on the equipment being controlled as well as the existing state of energy conservation technologies. Experience suggests that savings of between 15 to 30% are achievable in most cases.

As an example, Schneider Electric is working with Musgrove Park Hospital, part of the Taunton & Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, to implement 180 technical energy-saving solutions. These will save the hospital £17 million over 20 years by reducing the hospital’s energy consumption by more than 40%.

Schneider Electric, BMS, BEMS, building management systems
180 technical energy-saving solutions in Musgrove Park Hospital have reduced energy consumption by over 40%.

One part of the project was a full overhaul of the HVAC system — including variable-speed drives and control on air-handling units and pumps. The upgrades included free-cooling alterations to remove mechanical-cooling requirements.

Hospitals demand consistent and constantly available power to ensure safe, efficient and cost-effective operations. Although the installation and management of critical power environments are both complicated and costly, losing the power supply simply isn’t an option when patients’ lives are on the line.

Hospitals are often directly connected to electricity sub-stations to minimise the risk of power cuts. Nonetheless, it’s vital that hospitals have a power-outage solution in place to monitor critical power availability, power quality and schedules in maintenance at the most appropriate time, along with performing real-time diagnostics in the case of a power failure.

Recent developments in open-protocol communications technology for building-automation systems enable all the critical systems in a hospital, like HVAC, lighting, security and electrical power to communicate with one another in a more intelligent way — both improving the healing environment for patients and allowing for more efficient facilities management.

Often a BMS is installed and commissioned with predicted parameters that are suitable at that time. Over time the use of the building and the services delivered within that building will inevitably change. Additions to the building or changes in its configuration without major investment to upgrade environmental systems and controls at the same time will impact negatively upon the energy performance. Such changes can also result in lower employee productivity, higher energy bills and increased building maintenance costs. However, re-commissioning, extending or upgrading a BMS which is designed to be flexible and scalable to meet with the activities of the hospital in the future can change all of this.

The challenges faced by healthcare providers means that ensuring operational efficiency is vital. It is imperative that healthcare institutions get a health check of their own as well. This will allow them not only to check whether they are resilient and getting the most of out their infrastructure but also to check whether they are compliant with the standards in operation. Consultants can help with resilience testing services to ensure security and assurance, along with design and audit services to help with upgrading any systems and providing retrofits, as well as providing strategy and advice.

Understanding the condition and performance of a hospital’s systems and infrastructure is key to improving safety and efficiency. A successful and effective BMS is at the core of the ability to do just this. The direct implications on health and wellbeing of patients, together with the need to ensure hygiene and cleanliness, and operational considerations, make a BMS a significant factor in ensuring successful outcomes of patients.

Connected, intelligent controls and equipment can deliver greater insight into the performance of hospital facilities and provide a significant, measurable return on investment. The opportunities for savings that exist cannot be accessed through the traditional building approach as this leads to a hospital infrastructure with disparate systems, duplication of infrastructure and inefficient communication.

Significant investment has been made over many years into developing solutions and technologies that can unlock savings, improve operational productivity and patient safety. These solutions are now a reality and helping healthcare providers do more with less across the world.

Chris Needham is healthcare solutions lead with Schneider Electric.

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