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When downtime is not an option

May 9, 2020 | By David O’Reilly

May 9, 2020 – The healthcare industry is becoming ever more reliant on connected, digital tools to store records, run systems and machinery, and support and diagnose patients. With these numerous vital interconnected devices, a secure and reliable source of power and a solid IT infrastructure aren’t just nice to have—they can mean the difference between life and death.

From patient information to equipment like MRI systems and facility-wide IoT asset management, the healthcare industry has minimal tolerance for power disruption. While most hospitals have plans in place to safeguard patients and the facility in the event of power loss, a solid infrastructure is imperative in preventing and responding to power concerns.

In a digitally-enabled facility, infrastructure is created and maintained through several interconnected systems, beginning with a strong, reliable and efficient uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system laying the groundwork for an always-on medical environment. To ensure the system, and its related data, is maintained and monitored easily and effectively, integrating edge data centre systems for additional support allows IT managers to monitor and manage the facility’s many systems around the clock across an expansive network.

With the necessary routine line of sight into the electrical and mechanical systems supporting a healthcare facility, IT managers can compile and store data together and access it in real time as it’s needed. This ease of access to data allows for quick, efficient analysis leading to the deployment of or improvement upon a facility’s IoT systems. These insights allow IT and healthcare facility managers to increase efficiency, improve the patient experience and, more importantly, ensure patient safety.

More than keeping the lights on

In many industries, access to a steady power supply is vital – but in the healthcare industry, much more than just financial losses are at stake. From sensitive patient information and records, to valuable tools like MRI and x-ray machines and critical life support systems, reliability is key in keeping daily functions running.

As recently as 2015, 40 per cent of global health organizations experienced unplanned power outages, causing significant delays, dangerous connection failures and, on average, cost roughly US$432,000. It’s easy to see how these outages could negatively impact the patient experience or wreak havoc in an operating theatre.

This is where the introduction of a rugged, multi-phase UPS system can act as a first step in implementing smart power management strategies to reduce these incidents or prevent them altogether. Integrating UPS systems brings numerous benefits, acting as a sturdy base to provide support across a facility.

UPS systems provide a long-term, reliable back up power supply to deliver secure electricity independent of the local grid. This guaranteed source of power offers an additional layer of security in areas where power can be unreliable, allowing facilities to maintain patient wellbeing and safety.

Further, UPS systems prevent power fluctuations and protect against power surges in high risk environments such as urgent and critical patient care. Generally, these fluctuations and surges are among the leading causes of downtime for sensitive systems, and by extension are a direct cause of costly and dangerous outages.

Adding to the appeal of many modern UPS systems is multi-phase design, and their specific design with digital connectivity in mind. This offers not only functionality and convenience, but also provides additional power security with improved support for high, unbalanced loads to be distributed across wider networks to streamline and reduce the total number of UPSs required.

Power for managing data and systems

Given the constant demand for healthcare facilities, there is an expectation that they will always be functional, including through extreme events. While a UPS system offers a strong preventative and reactive measure to protect a facility’s power, it’s also important to take into consideration the terabytes of data created and used daily in a hospital. The storage systems required to house and rapidly access this information on demand must also remain fully operational in extreme circumstances.

While one solution is to simply ensure any on-site data centre equipment benefits from the protection of the facility’s UPS systems, there is another option: to take advantage of the advancements in edge computing. By utilizing edge computing support for data storage and analysis, the bandwidth and processing capacity limitations of a more traditional data centre can be avoided, allowing faster access to vital information when it’s needed – be that for patients, diagnostics or building management.

Further, by embracing edge-based data centre systems, facility managers can take full advantage of modular and customizable solutions. This can often allow for streamlined system support, taking into careful consideration the specific needs and operations a unit will serve, meaning patient data storage, for example, can be kept separate from the more active data coming from a UPS or building management system. Beyond that, these custom edge units can be placed off-site, a particular benefit for facilities in more remote regions or in areas that tend to endure more extreme weather, allowing access to data and analysis to remain constant, even when a facility is enduring a potentially hazardous event.

Combined support

While a UPS system and the utilization of edge computing each offer their own benefits, using them in harmony with broad Internet of Things (IoT) or Building Management Systems (BMS) to create a strong digital supporting environment is the best formula for improved reliability, patient experience and facility efficiency.

Modern digital UPS systems, while providing a secure power back up in the event of an emergency, are also constantly monitoring and measuring power use and draw across facilities. This means that when paired with an IoT system, a UPS system can read and react to power fluctuations – expected or otherwise – to not only respond to potential dangers, but provide staff advanced notice to proactively address potential issues.

Monitoring incoming power is only half of the equation for many UPS systems, and only half of what should be considered by facility managers. Digitally enabled UPS systems with IoT support can also offer a clear line of sight from input to output of a facility’s power grid. A UPS and IoT combination can stand as a proactive tool allowing managers to see what systems and machines are drawing the most power in a facility, and identify if, when and how they should take priority in an emergency scenario. With full line of sight to the power use of individual systems, there is an additional opportunity to identify high-stress areas where a power failure may be approaching, and proactively address the issue – preventing the need for the back-up supply and avoiding costly repairs.

With these benefits in mind, an effective power management and security strategy, from the base of a UPS system to the overarching digital management systems, create a strong backbone to support and enhance our healthcare systems, playing an active role in saving and improving lives.

About the author…

David O’Reilly is vice president of the secure power division at Schneider Electric Canada. David joined Schneider Electric in April 2017. Prior to joining Schneider, David has held a variety of senior roles at organizations over his 25-year career, including roles at Telus, The Williams Group, Deloitte & Touche, Bell Canada and Netscape Communications. David is a graduate of Wilfrid Laurier University (’94).

This article—along with other great content—appears in the May 2020 edition of Electrical Business Magazine.

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