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Within hospitals and healthcare clinics, a built environment that is designed to maintain safety and comfort plays an important role in aiding patient recovery. The controls that regulate environmental variables such as temperature, humidity, lighting, and airflow play critical roles. The built environment impacts infection transmission by ensuring correct levels of humidity and air exchanges. The odds of a faster healing process are also improved when thermal conditions are controlled in such a way that patients are more comfortable and safer.
Lighting also plays a crucial role in determining both patient safety and comfort. Control of light dimness can stimulate the brain’s neurons to induce sleep or to maintain wakefulness depending on the patient’s need. Proper lighting intensity is also required when nurses enter patient rooms to investigate exam results or to administer medicine so that errors are avoided.
How Modern Environmental Control Systems Deliver Safety, Comfort, and Business Value
Much of this healthcare environmental control takes place behind the scenes. Modern building automation systems and digitized devices such as room controllers help hospital facility staff to improve their ability to precisely regulate and monitor such sensitive environments. These systems help to drive patient safety and comfort in multiple ways:
- Precision temperature control – A hospital building automation system must be capable of precisely controlling the temperature of individual rooms and departments within the facility. The temperature control requirements can vary and can be based on the type of procedure taking place. For example, in a burn unit, the ability to provide higher ambient temperatures will be needed to help patients maintain body temperatures. Whereas lower temperatures will be required in operating rooms and trauma areas. In these spaces, control of viruses and bacteria is critical but the body temperatures of patients also need to be kept lower to help better stem the flow of blood.
Temperature control is also important to aid the comfort levels of clinical staff. This is where local adjustment of the room environments is needed. Using smart interfaces and having controls systems adjust to the changing needs helps clinical staff to stay focused. And of course, maintaining comfort for patients is key to helping in their recovery. Providing patients with the ability to adjust their room temperatures is a key driver in patient satisfaction.
- Humidity control– Humidity that is too low can act as a conduit for viruses making it easier for them to disperse and travel around a building. Low humidity dries mucous membranes and inhibits the body’s natural defense. Humidity that is too high can encourage the growth of bacteria. Humidity can also affect a patient’s perception of temperature (a damp room can feel colder than a drier room at the same temperature). Smart sensors that help to control humidity levels in rooms can help to both lower health risks and increase patient comfort.
- Precision ventilation control – Different rooms across hospital environments require unique air ventilation settings. In an operating suite, for example, when an operation is occurring, up to 24 air changes per hour are required. The high air changes are required to protect patients from any potential airborne infections. In rooms that house imaging technologies (magnetic resonance imaging or MRI machines, for example) the equipment produces very high levels of heat. The ventilation systems need to cool the space and keep the systems operating. Then there are areas of the hospital where patients may have infectious disease and pose a risk to other patients and care givers. In these areas it is critical to move that air out of the space and make sure there is no risk of it flowing in to areas of the hospital. Hospitals also have research areas and pharmacy spaces where air flow needs to be very tightly controlled.
- Lighting control – Lighting, can also significantly impact the psychological well-being of the patient. The use of natural light, artificial lighting, and color needs to be carefully planned. Having the right exposure and light quality can transform areas of the hospital by making them more attractive and welcoming. In the case of a patient’s room, properly controlled lighting can ensure a more restful experience, by helping patents to feel more relaxed. Window shading and control of glare is also important as many patients like an outside view while avoiding sunlight in their eyes when they are awake.
Staff are also impacted by proper lighting control and the various care environments require different lighting approaches. For example, lower lumen fixtures are required in intensive care units as opposed to in examination rooms. Lighting also impacts how doctors and nurses perform their clinical tasks and can help reduce error during emergency situations. From a facility operation and energy consumption perspective, lighting control can also help the hospital to achieve its energy savings and sustainability targets.
- Regulatory compliance – Hospitals can also use modern building automation systems to maintain environmental regulation compliance. Failure to do so threatens patient health and can result in the loss of the facility’s healthcare accreditations and license to operate. Building automation systems (BAS) gather system performance data that can be retained as records for proving compliance (e.g., air turnover rates in operating rooms). The BAS logs and documents all important temperature, humidity, ventilation and lighting parameters and provides the facility team with insight into their building operations, identifying areas where patient safety or comfort may be at issue.
Modernization Can Start Small
As hospitals and healthcare clinics prioritize their investments, modernization of building automation and building management system emerges as a critical success factor. In many facilities, antiquated systems make it difficult to fulfill patient safety and comfort expectations.
Organizations wishing to digitize their environmental control operations can begin by assessing the current systems and controls they have in place. Then, as performance gaps are identified, simple first steps, such as the installation of inexpensive environmental sensors and room-based controllers where all the infrastructure from the room can be connected, can be introduced to help modernize those areas most in need.
To learn more about how Schneider Electric can help hospitals modernize their facility control systems visit our EcoStruxure™ for Healthcare website.