Forget that advice about not sweating the small stuff: It’s that small stuff that can trip up all the rest of the stuff — big time! Just ask any biomed or clinical engineer dealing with the electricity coursing through the hospital. Making sure the power is on or off is the easy part; monitoring voltage surges and sags is a whole ‘nother animal. Troubleshooting power quality issues is worth the trouble.

f03a.jpg (9856 bytes)Isn’t it odd that with all the knowledge and skills biomeds and clinical engineers possess in regard to maintaining complex pieces of equipment that it is so easy to get tripped up by the little things? One of those things, something most take for granted, is the nature of the electricity coursing through a hospital. Not just whether it’s on or off, but what happens to voltage rates throughout the day, its sags and surges — its personality, so to speak.

It’s true that most people aren’t trained for this sort of thing, but like other peripheral issues in this industry, it’s worth looking into the matter. Consider the benefits, ranging from increased uptime and longevity of the machines under your care, to more far-reaching concepts, such as improved profitability for the hospital.

When in doubt, isolate
The best step to take when you’re stuck while troubleshooting a device is to isolate it from other machines to a clean power line, one free of possible surges, motors or other sources of high-frequency noise. If you’re absolutely sure you have a solid power supply flowing to the device, and it no longer exhibits the problems that prompted you to intervene in the first place, you’ve taken a step toward addressing a power-quality problem.

This can be a puzzle, one that may involve a great deal of investigation of supply lines, circuits and experimentation with location of equipment. You’ll quickly find that the sources of power problems are quite varied, as have Nicholas Noyes, director of clinical engineering at University of Connecticut Health Center (Farmington, Conn.), and Richard Lindberg, an electrical engineer working with Noyes.

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