5 Challenges to Powering Digital Hospitals

Patient care has been significantly impacted by the expansion of IT and other contemporary technologies in medical facilities. These technologies have enabled the proliferation of digital hospital systems linking diagnostic and medical imaging equipment with physicians and medical professionals to leverage in the course of their work. In Singapore, the government is well aware of the benefits technology can make to the quality of patient care.

These networks are delivering vital information that forms the basis of decisions made by physicians and other professionals to provide quality care and manage hospital costs efficiently, and in compliance with local regulations. An appropriately-sized physical infrastructure is essential for hospital organizations if they want to ensure that information exchange is always available to those who rely on it. This infrastructure requires a reliable and managed power system equipped to handle the voltage, reliability standards, and cooling demands of critical hospital equipment.

Before considering the hospital's power needs, it's first essential to understand each facet of the network forming today's digital hospital. An illustration as to how digital imaging system is managed, let us look at its network built with hardware features including:

  • Modalities that capture and generate images (e.g., MRI and CT scanning machines)
  • Picture Archiving and Communication Systems (PACS) that store images for physicians to use in diagnosis and treatment.
  • Radiology Information Systems (RIS) and Hospital Information Systems (HIS) that use servers to store, monitor, manage and distribute patient information. From scheduling appointments to billing and management reporting, these systems form the backbone of today's digital hospitals. 
  • Computed and digital radiography to convert film to digital and provide digital images, as well as laser printers and other peripherals when film printing is necessary.
Copyright: Vertiv

These features are composed of physical equipment, including power systems (i.e. uninterruptible power supply (UPS), Power Distribution Units (PDUs), and isolation transformers and generators), precision cooling systems, racks to house critical network equipment (e.g. servers, switches, and routers), physical security and fire protection systems, and cabling to interconnect equipment.

This physical infrastructure must be reliable, scalable, highly available, and manageable. Outages, such as the one last year in Singapore that resulted in partial outages at two area hospitals, or of any kind can have dire effects for unprepared hospitals. When assessing the power needs of your hospital's network, IT professionals should focus on addressing these five challenges to running a physical network, you can count on as the organization grows and changes. 

Power continuity

Hospitals are highly dependent on its power system to ensure uninterrupted, clean power is delivered to critical areas of the network. The extensive, complex electrical system has the vital job of powering heating ventilation air conditioning (HVAC) systems, lighting, elevators, safety systems, and more. By nature, these create an unstable power environment that sensitive imaging, diagnostic equipment, and other IT devices must sustain.

For example, hospital labs and diagnostic centers rely on equipment that may be sensitive to fluctuations in power supply. These vital therapies and diagnostic tests help to improve medical decision-making with clear benefits for patients while bringing economic advantages to healthcare organizations. Therefore, it is essential to protect all laboratory equipment by providing stable power through UPS. Certain types of equipment often need batteries as back up as well in case of power failure.

Cooling

Critical equipment has its specified temperature environment that needs to be maintained to ensure proper functioning. As such, adequate cooling and airflow are necessary for all areas of the hospital network that have sensitive electronics dissipating heat. For most of the cart and desk-mounted modalities, building HVAC should be sufficient, but large floor-mounted equipment (e.g., CTs, MRIs, or PETs) supplemental cooling may be required. Precision cooling is preferred for controlling temperature and humidity control in the CT/MRI room. These areas of the hospital network and its physical infrastructure should be monitored and managed to quickly detect issues that could lead to an outage or downtime.

Physical Space

All power and cooling needs for digital hospitals need to take into consideration the physical space requirements for this equipment to ensure functionality without any disruptions. It is of the greatest importance for server-based RIS and HIS, along with PACs. Since these systems are generally stored in a data center within the hospital, attention should be paid to manage data center space, spare capacity in racks, its weight capacity.

Management

Digital hospitals can significantly improve patient care, minimize human errors, save lives, and reduce costs. To accomplish this goal, hospital IT professionals should have in integrated management systems to monitor and manage the infrastructure, locally and remotely, to ensure continuous operation. A good strategy involves the management of servers, storage, and the entire physical infrastructure and its critical environment (i.e., temperature and humidity). This will give early warnings of potential problems to prevent shutdowns.

Services

Hospital IT departments managing digital networks should also enlist experts to ensure that the proper service maintenance takes place regularly. These experts can perform assessments of a data center's physical infrastructure, and provide detailed reports aimed at improving overall system reliability and availability while minimizing the total cost of ownership.

Addressing these challenges proactively will help hospitals ensure that its critical facility is wholly reliable and available. The physical infrastructure of this network is central to running a successful digital hospital.

Arunangshu Chattopadhyay, director of Power Product for Asia, Vertiv authored this article.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CDOTrends.