Hospital Resilience and Power Reliability: What Health Systems Need to Know

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Vital in every sector, power reliability is literally a matter of life and death in medicine. As healthcare providers know, a power outage or interruption affecting an ICU, surgical theater, procedure room, vaccine storage area, electronically locked drug-dispensing unit or long-term care facility can do more than disrupt care and work flows; it can cause harm and cost lives.

Healthcare organizations face average costs of $690,000 per outage, according to a Ponemon Institute/Emerson Network Power report. This calculation doesn’t consider the potential for loss of life [or potential losses due to litigation]. As one participant in a global panel discussion of healthcare executives recently convened by Schneider Electric put it, “The potential costs of unreliable power in healthcare are unimaginable.”

We understand, which is why we include power reliability as one of the seven characteristics of hospital resilience, the core strength that will distinguish flexible and adaptive organizations in the coming decades. “Power reliability is the backbone of a healthcare facility,” our panel participant stated. In our view, it’s also the essence of resilience.

power reliability

Power Reliability: Moving from Reactive to Proactive

Despite the critical nature of power reliability in healthcare, in our experience, many healthcare organizations (as well as businesses in other industries) approach power management reactively rather than proactively. The reasoning: We haven’t had a problem, why change?

The tendency to react, rather than plan and anticipate, means that hospitals and health systems often give power reliability the attention it deserves only after an incident or crisis.

Fortunately, digitization and innovation are making it easier to take a more proactive approach to power reliability. To prepare for and preempt the kinds of power-related challenges their facilities are likely to encounter—to build resilience– health systems should consider evolving diagnostic and preventive technologies and innovations such as microgrids, power automation, power events analysis and condition-based maintenance. These technologies can help identify and troubleshoot problems and weaknesses before deficiencies interrupt power and jeopardize safety, typically paying for themselves the first time they enable an organization to circumvent a crisis.

Digital Tools to Improve Power Reliability

Hospital and health system administrators now have compelling reasons to begin thinking more proactively about how to use these emerging power management technologies.

For one, power disturbances are on the rise, both on the grid and inside private electrical networks. In the United States alone, weather-related blackouts have doubled since 2003, reports Climate Central. “A warming planet provides more fuel for increasingly intense and violent storms, heat waves, and wildfires, which in turn will continue to strain, and too often breach, our highly vulnerable electrical infrastructure,” they state.

Other global power outage causes include human error on the part of power plant operators, aging components in electrical infrastructure, equipment malfunction and cyber-crime.

For example, the nearly simultaneous failure of two power stations in the United Kingdom in August 2019 resulted in a loss of power in London and large sections of England and Wales that also affected hospitals.

When they occur in a hospital, a well-maintained Emergency Power Supply System (EPSS) can help weather the storm, and keep the hospital running. This EPSS can be built around a microgrid including alternative sources of energy, such as renewables or combined heat and power.

Power is also becoming more polluted. As a result, power quality is becoming harder to achieve and maintain. The power electronics present in digital devices generate harmonics, which can severely distort the voltage. And as equipment and devices become smaller and more digitized, they also become more sensitive to damage from poor power quality.

We encourage healthcare organizations to investigate the types of equipment and digital applications that can help them mitigate these problems and achieve and maintain high quality power throughout their electrical network. These include power quality correction devices, purpose-built power management software and advanced services supported by cloud analytics and power quality experts.

These technologies and predictive tools can help give health systems the resilience needed to tackle future extreme challenges. Visit EcoStruxure for Healthcare for more information and read all the posts in this blog series.

Keep the conversation going! Tune in to Schneider Electric’s new Podcast Series for Everyday Extraordinary Healthcare focusing on Resiliency. Start listening.

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