Power quality in the medical sector

Author : Steve Hughes, Managing Director of REO

25 August 2017

You may have seen more people in your social news feed checking in to A&E or posting selfies from their hospital bed recently. It’s not that all your Facebook friends have suddenly been under the weather: hospital patients and visitors are now allowed to use mobile phones on site, without fear of interfering with medical equipment. However, hospitals still have a long way to go to mitigate power quality issues.

Hospitals in the UK typically follow procedures to reduce the interference caused by medical equipment and comply with regulations such as EN60601, a European standard that outlines the basic requirements for medical electrical equipment in hospitals.

This standard covers the safety, essential performance and electromagnetic compatibility of such apparatus. However, despite the care taken over medical equipment, non-medical devices typically cause the most electrical interference problems.

Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment is often used in hospitals alongside medical equipment. These devices, such as commercial PCs, can result in electrical interference and subsequently have serious effects on medical equipment functionality. For example, there have been reports of cases where critical medical equipment, such as defibrillators, failed to work because of interference from secondary devices, such as ambulance radios.

The rise in portable and handheld devices used to monitor patient vitals increases the amount of machinery in hospitals, and with more equipment used, the risk of electrical interference rises. Such equipment is susceptible to changes in power quality, which can affect the quality of data received.

Electromagnetic interference (EMI) causes surges and spikes in power, which has an impact on both the medical data collected and the way devices interact with each other. If clinical decisions are being made on the basis of potentially-compromised data, this could prove dangerous for patients.

To protect patients, hospital managers must consider all of the equipment used in their hospitals as a whole, rather than focusing on the interference of powerful medical equipment alone. Fortunately, facilities managers can use medical isolation transformers (MITs), such as the REOMED range, to allow most Class I equipment to pass the electrical section of the EN60601 standard and become safe for use in hospitals.

The transformers allow safe galvanic separation between the primary and secondary electrical circuits, which limits electrical leakage, and as such, the interference to other devices. This means that COTS equipment, as well as portable and handheld devices, can be used in hospitals alongside medical equipment – without compromising patient safety.

Thanks to increased EMI awareness and protection, we can now use our mobile phones around medical equipment. As useful as the public may find it to stay connected or keep up to date on social networks, facilities managers have a bigger task ahead. To minimise equipment failures and increase patient safety, hospitals must take steps to reduce electrical interference from all medical and non-medical equipment used on their wards.

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