How building automation systems help deter the spread of infection in hospital environments

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Across the world, healthcare-associated infections (HCAI) remain the common adverse outcome in health-care delivery. Hundreds of millions of inpatients are affected, with 7% in developed countries and 10% in developing countries acquiring at least one related infection. In intensive care units (ICU) the number increases even further, with 30% of patients likely to catch an infection, even in the most advanced healthcare systems. But how can building automation systems help deter the spread of infection in hospital environments?

A UK study by the BMJ found 653,000 HCAI in NHS England during the 2016/17 fiscal year, resulting in an additional 5.6 million occupied hospital beds and adding a £2.1 billion bill to NHS.

What are HCAI?

HCAI are infections that occur in a healthcare setting (such as a hospital) that a patient didn’t have before they came in. Infections can be caused by micro-organisms originating from another patient either by direct contact or through a contaminated hospital environment.

Such infections go largely unreported, but they represent an ongoing endemic that no institution or country can claim to have solved. While improved surveillance and reporting are crucial, new technology is being designed to reduce the spread and impact of HCAI.

Ventilation technology

Up-to-date smart ventilation technologies driven by building automation systems are helping to reduce the risk of HCAI by effectively managing airflows across hospital facilities. However, in order to be effective, these systems must be properly designed, operated, and maintained.

healthcare building automation

Best practices for maintaining healthy airflows

Airflow systems are complex and conducting the proper steps for maintaining the safety of their ventilation is essential. We recommend that the following best practices are adhered to:

  • Enhance your ability to log and display data– Today’s building automation systems have more memory available than ever before. This increases the system’s ability to compile more data. Better analysis of data allows hospital officials to offer regulators complete and detailed reports surrounding both the rate of air changes in rooms and the rate of energy consumption. Data analytics tools also help facilities staff to work with trending data in order to optimise building performance through data-driven system adjustments
  • Engineer spaces to enable both positive and negative pressures– to continue the discussion from the Six Steps Hospital Facilities Can Take to Reduce the Risk of Spreading Infectious Disease blog, in some hospital rooms, positive air pressure (new air coming in) is a strict requirement. In an operating suite, for example, when an operation is occurring, up to 24 air changes per hour are required. Thus, every three minutes, all the air in the room must be completely turned over. In other hospital rooms, negative air pressure is required. Consider rooms that house soiled garments, scrubs, and devices that were used in surgery. Those are rooms that should be kept at a negative air pressure (no air leaves the room and enters nearby rooms). Precision ventilation systems operating without defects are required to maintain such positive and negative air flow conditions.
  • Perform regular maintenance – As fresh air comes in from outside of the building, it is mixed and screened for contaminants. Then that air makes its way through duct work, moving across coils for heating, cooling, and humidification, through a series of filters, and then into the spaces where patients and staff reside. At the same time, inside air is removed and replaced with the new incoming air. Without proper preventative maintenance of these air distribution systems (including regular replacement of filters) building owners invite situations where the risk of airborne mould spores, which contaminate the air supply, increases.
  • Pay attention to damper performance– Within buildings, dampers are used for controlling air flow. The introduction of fresh outside air into the facility, for instance, is controlled by a damper. Some dampers help to mix air while others manage the volume of return air. Most dampers have slats and a very fine mesh screen that operate to control the flow of the air. When a damper malfunction occurs, air quality is impacted, and pre-set airflow parameters are difficult to achieve. Thus, dampers should be inspected and tested on a regular basis in order to ensure safe airflow performance.

To learn more about how digitized building automation solutions can enable modernization and enhance healthcare airflow quality, visit the Schneider Electric EcoStruxure™ web site.

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