In a fast-paced hospital environment, any power interruption can be detrimental to patient care. That’s why it’s imperative that healthcare facilities pay attention to their power protection solutions, experts say. Below, Ed Spears, product manager, Eaton; Jim Folk, director of healthcare solutions, Tripp Lite; and Ulrik Poulsen, founder of Bridgeport Magnetics Group, reveal what’s new in the power protection sector and share what HTM departments should look for before procuring new technologies.

24×7 Magazine: What are some of the biggest innovations in the power protection technologies sector?

Ulrik Poulsen: Voltage surge arrestors for lightning protection of power-, data- and telecom-lines, along with uninterruptible power systems to handle line brown-out and black-out events.

Jim Folk: One of the largest innovations in power protection technologies may be the evolution of the definition itself. Historically, “power protection” was defined as “surge protection,” needed in the event of a surge caused by lightning or faults on the power grid. Today, we define power protection to include the assurance of power for high-reliability applications. Power remains “on” using both simple and complex routing, switching, and control technologies. So now, the definition of “power protection” includes power control to assure 24×7 power integrity for mission-critical applications.

Ed Spears: One major innovation that has recently taken shape in the industry is the emergence of lithium-ion batteries as a viable solution for uninterruptible power systems (UPSs). The cost of lithium-ion technology has fallen dramatically in recent years and innovation has advanced to a point where it has become a useful option for [technology] managers to consider in the decision-making process for power management and disaster preparedness.

Lithium-ion batteries can perform the same functions as traditional lead-acid batteries while offering significant advantages. With a 10-year service life and a much higher cycle life, there is significant cost savings for organizations that have traditionally been forced to replace UPS batteries every two to three years. The price of a lithium-based solution upfront is typically smaller in regards to maintenance costs associated with the life of the product.

24×7: Does the healthcare environment present unique challenges for power protection technologies? Why or why not?

Spears: Yes, particularly with the way technology advancement is reshaping traditional views on IT strategy. With the prevalence of electronic medical records, the cloud, and Internet of Things innovations, many hospitals and healthcare organizations are moving away from a centralized IT approach. Rather than using a large data center to house all their IT infrastructure, organizations can deploy “edge” data centers and network closets with applications in closer proximity to the user. While this shift in strategy opens the door for real-time data, it also creates new challenges for power management and protection.

Ensuring the highest levels of reliability and availability for electronic medical records and other data-enabled systems involves linking the data center, the network closet, and associated components so that information can instantly flow. This hybrid IT environment calls for more integration in power management solutions and other software in support of faster services and streamlining access to critical data.

Integrated power management solutions typically include rack enclosures, rack power distribution units, rackmount and end-of-row UPSs, and power management software and services. Together, these solutions can help organizations protect and manage their investments from central IT functions to the proliferation of edge data center endpoints.

Folk: If the healthcare environment is defined as a high-reliability application, then no special challenges exist. The need for reliable power 24×7 remains the same. Power protection in treatment areas and the patient care vicinity requires special consideration for patient safety, but only when power is already available.

Regarding patient safety, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services adopted regulations based on Underwriters Laboratories (UL) standards for devices that can potentially come in contact with patients and staff. Power protection technologies used in healthcare environments need to comply with the UL standards, both inside and outside of patient care vicinities.

Poulsen: The main healthcare challenges are to protect staff and patients from life-threatening electrical shocks caused by defective equipment. Another special consideration is avoiding power outages, [since such outages could put patients at risk due to medical procedures.]

24×7: How have power protection technologies evolved in recent years and how do you expect them to evolve even more in the future?

Folk: The use of local and network power distribution units (PDUs), controlled manually or automatically, has provided the ability to manage and instantaneously route power to where it is needed. Power distribution may be managed via manual switch, manual network control, or automatic control, based on programming and the type of PDU. Power can be managed and controlled remotely over a network, whether that network is local, regional, or wide-area.

Spears: As IoT and Big Data solutions continue to make their way into IT infrastructures, organizations in every industry are only beginning to understand how they can strategically harness the power of data science to positively impact their operations. In power management and protection systems, predictive analytics is one area where major strides have started to take shape.

With predictive analytics, big data, sensors, and algorithms are used to proactively spot issues­—notifying IT staff members and field technicians when a part needs replacing. Providing insights surrounding existing power management components, these systems help organizations act quickly and prevent expensive emergency repairs, as well as complications that could happen if something breaks down.

Predictive analytics services are getting better and better about making decisions on their own as they collect more data on thousands of installed UPS systems. As preventive maintenance continues to play a major role in backup functions, these solutions will help shift this model from reactive to proactive.

24×7: Before purchasing power protection technologies, what should healthcare professionals consider?

Poulsen: Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter-protected outlets limit leakage touch-current to 5 mA, which is insufficient in a medical environment. Also, isolation transformers limit current leakage to 500 microampere or less. For true protection, the secondary side of isolation transformers must be floating without any reference to the ground.

Spears: Healthcare IT systems operate in a mission-critical environment that makes power protection truly vital. Hospitals and healthcare organizations should have a comprehensive disaster preparedness plan in place to defend against downtime, leveraging solutions like UPSs, remote controllable rack PDUs, and other power protection devices that provide emergency power in the case of an event. To ensure system efficiency, teams should also consider how these solutions will interact with other power management software and systems.

Moreover, having an integrated system in place helps organizations build for the future. As software takes on an even more important role in our increasingly digitized world, solutions will continue to advance in the integration of IT resources between on-premise and the cloud—supporting quality and dependable care for patients.

Folk: Healthcare professionals need to consider all available sources and uses of power, along with the reliability level required. For example, utility power may include multiple feeds from different utility service circuits, multiple generator inputs and load control devices to manage various levels of power reliability. The variable nature of the local power scheme brings into focus the need for power protection, including the redundancy provided by a high-quality, online UPS.

24×7: From a safety perspective, what do you want to tell HTM professionals about power protection technologies?

Spears: From a safety perspective, it’s worth noting that there have traditionally been some concerns with lithium-ion batteries, as mentioned before. However, the chemistry used for lithium-ion technology in UPSs is much safer and more innocuous than it has been historically in other applications. A UPS lithium-ion battery is more like the one you would find in an electric car than what you’d have in your laptop. Even under adverse conditions, their risk of issues due to overheating is much less.

Additionally, while not necessarily aligned with physical safety, the topic of cybersecurity has become a heightened concern for healthcare leaders as it relates to safety in their data since IT systems are growing more connected. Because IoT devices typically include a unique IP address that enables them to communicate and exchange data with other machines, they can pose a daunting cybersecurity challenge in decentralized IT environments.

As backup systems become more advanced and interconnected with other devices, some power management providers are already taking steps to ensure their products are safe from cyber-threats and offer users peace of mind. Products certified by standards bodies, such as the International Society of Automation and UL, typically offer the most reassurance for organizations that the connectivity used for data collection won’t be compromised.

Folk: Select a brand proven in healthcare applications and use products that have a track record of reliable performance over many years. Also, remember that power protection technologies used in healthcare environments need to comply with UL standards, both inside and outside of patient care vicinities.

Poulsen: When choosing isolation transformers for shock protection, make sure that they do not feature “Secondary Neutral to Ground Bond.”

24×7: What else do you want 24×7 Magazine readers to know about power protection technologies? 

Folk: Whether you are considering a single surge protector, a change to a generator, or a complete redesign of your utility supply, consult with power protection professionals experienced in healthcare applications. They will give you the data and information you need to make safe and effective decisions on power protection solutions that will comply with CMS regulations.

Spears: Because everything a healthcare facility does is mission-critical, unplanned outages can have a devastating impact if organizations aren’t careful. While [equipment] personnel may not be able to be in more than one place at a time, they can deploy solutions that will help them streamline processes for greater efficiency.

By using an integrated power management solution that aligns hardware and software components, staff members can free up time—focusing on driving quality care to patients. At the end of the day, with an optimal solution in place, managers will have a robust disaster avoidance plan that offers peace of mind knowing [healthcare technologies] and patient data are protected.