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Healthcarebuildingideas.com By J.D. Thompson
As healthcare organizations continue to focus on sustainability and energy efficiency, more attention needs to be paid to greening medical equipment.
The healthcare industry has worked hard over the past few years to become more energy efficient and sustainable. From eliminating mercury to integrated design to energy-efficient HVAC systems, healthcare companies across the country are beginning to realize that protecting the environment and healing patients are mutually beneficial goals.
Yet while healthcare companies scrutinize the energy use of many parts of their facilities, one big energy user has gone unnoticed: medical equipment. Medical equipment accounts for between one-fifth and one-quarter of energy use in a given facility, and yet it’s never been put on an efficiency diet.
What’s more, healthcare facilities can’t even assess how much energy a given CAT scan or IV pump uses compared to those produced by other manufacturers. There is no official efficiency rating, unlike cars, which have EPA mileage standards, and household appliances and office equipment, which are given EnergyStar designations. The energy use of medical equipment remains a mystery.
Cheap energy made us complacent
How did we get to this state of affairs? When healthcare facilities were first electrified in the early part of the 20th century, energy was relatively cheap. Electronic equipment was, for the most part, a nonfactor, and the little energy that a hospital or clinic used went mainly for lighting.
With time came an increasing reliance on technology, and little by little, the energy used by medical equipment increased. And while it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how much energy medical equipment uses, several studies over the years have pointed to between 20 and 25% of a given facility’s overall load. It’s safe to say that with every year, as technology advances, the energy used by medical equipment—and the energy bills paid by healthcare facilities—will increase.
What can be done?
The good news is that finally, medical equipment is coming under the kind of scrutiny that will lead to more efficiency. My firm, for example, is leading a study with the cooperation of the Department of Energy (DOE) that will track and compare the energy use of similar types of equipment. By getting baseline energy numbers, we hope to provide healthcare companies with more accurate data, and this will allow for better energy modeling of their facilities.
As we and the federal government publish this study and its data, manufacturers should start to pay more attention to how much energy is used by the equipment they produce. When consumers (in this case, hospitals and healthcare facilities) have access to energy information, it generally leads to better sales of the most efficient equipment. Hopefully, many manufacturers will see the business case for providing both efficient and effective medical equipment.
Lastly, good data on the energy use of medical equipment will allow the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy to extend the very popular “EnergyStar” rating to various kinds of medical equipment. Healthcare facilities will be able to compare the energy use of various kinds of equipment and will be able to choose the “EnergyStar” models, which will drive manufacturers to produce ever more efficient equipment—thus transforming the marketplace.
Next on the horizon: Toxin reduction and recycling
As healthcare looks to reduce energy in medical equipment, we must also look to reduce the toxic materials contained within them. Like laptop computers, televisions, microwaves, and other consumer electronics, medical equipment contains many substances that are known carcinogens, reproductive toxins, and persistent bioaccumulative toxins. Some of the most innovative healthcare companies are already working for toxics reduction. Our firm partnered with Kaiser Permanente recently to help them create a strategy for toxics reduction, which led them to ask their vendors for environmental impact information. Kaiser continues to work with its vendors and encourage them to improve the environmental performance of their equipment and supplies.
As with consumer electronics, pressure is also growing for manufacturers to consider the end of their product’s lifecycle. In the future, I believe that medical equipment manufacturers will consider the end of their product’s lifecycle as part of the design process, with equipment designed for easy disassembly. Viable and functioning parts could be used to create new equipment; other parts that cannot be reused will be recycled. At some point in the future, manufacturers may even be required to take back the equipment themselves for reuse and recycling.
Leading healthcare companies and medical equipment manufacturers are probably already preparing for the day when “green” medical equipment is the norm. The question remains: How quickly will the rest of the market catch up? Next time your facility is comparing costs on medical equipment, it might be wise to factor in the cost of energy and operations, and the environmental cost as well.
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