Integrating the various hospital sub-systems like heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC), fire safety, air quality, security, nurse call system, hospital management system so that they work together offers many benefits. The benefits include reducing energy usage, improving hospital operations, complying with hospital building codes and process, improving patient comfort and safety, as well as saving lives.

Airflow regulation as an example

Take healthy airflow as another example. It is not just a reserve of the realms of comfort. Instead, it becomes crucial in ensuring both the safe and speedy recovery of patients, as well as minimising the risk of airborne contaminants spreading from patients to visitors and staff. Both rely on keeping pressure measurements to within a 0.01 degree of accuracy to ensure that rooms are set up such that nothing can enter or escape unintentionally – no small engineering feat.

While investment in HVAC has always been a top priority in healthcare, major outbreaks not too long ago – including MERS, Zika and Ebola – have cast a spotlight on the industry’s susceptibility to crises, and the need to improve facilities. On a day-to-day basis, surgical site infections still account for about 30 per cent of all healthcare acquired infections, costing hospitals and facilities huge losses every year.

As our awareness of the importance of airflow increases, our global standards for healthcare, quite rightly, get stricter. India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has outlined the Airborne Infection Isolation Precautions, a set of strict guidelines to reduce the risk of airborne transmission of infectious agents, including specific regulations for room set-ups.

More granular and precise control

In response, the industry has innovated and enhanced its technologies to allow for more nuanced and integrated control of airflow in a building, and faster speed of response. Johnson Control’s Triatek healthcare systems, for instance, allows for hypersensitive and subtle control of air pressures within a healthcare building. This marks major progress from as recently as a decade ago, where the capabilities of systems in healthcare facilities were typically limited to differential controls. Today, we have since progressed to give critical environment building managers full control over spaces in a building, incorporating temperature, humidity and basic demand control with CO2 models.

Take for example a patient suffering from AIDS, who would be more susceptible to infection. In this case, more air has to flow out of the room than in to ensure nothing enters the space. By contrast, in a room housing a tuberculosis patient, airflow has to be negative, with more air flowing in so that the illness doesn’t escape into the facility. In laboratories, where there is a need to ensure that conditions are perfectly consistent throughout, a perfect balance of incoming and outgoing airflow has to be set up for the success of experiments. This involves careful control of temperature, humidity, and pressure. The array of customised settings extends to pharmacies, chemotherapy rooms, and even lavatories!

Untapped Potential

For many hospitals, the design usually starts from individual systems, which are built separately. There will be some interactions and coordination between systems, but there is usually no unified planning. Individual systems either are integrated or simply operate independently, and must be coordinated manually. Hence a unified, central design, is very important.

As a master system integrator, Johnson Controls has helped many complex healthcare facilities globally improve operational and building efficiencies as well as patient outcomes through a unified, central design. There is certainly a lot of untapped potential in India for many reasons ranging from lack of awareness to lack of resources. The improvements can be tremendous with the technologies that are now available and advancing rapidly.

Data-driven analytics

Integrating cloud-based systems for data analysis is one area with tremendous potential. The collection of data from disparate institutions can be computed and analysed in a remote location, ultimately to inform decision making which improves energy and cost efficiencies.

Of course, as with any solution that requires data collection, cloud-enabled building management in healthcare facilities and critical environments remains in its infancy as we address safety and privacy concerns. However, as awareness of these issues grows, technology partners can be expected to bring a fleet of products that are secure-by-design, as cybersecurity becomes a competitive advantage. While activities and operations such as localised controlling of actuators and sensors have to be strictly done at a local level, the potential of leveraging the cloud to identify cost savings is vast, and should not be ignored.

In an industry as tumultuous and unpredictable as healthcare, institutions have to proactively continue to invest in advancements that will improve the safety and well-being of the people within the institutions. At the same time, building solutions providers will have to channel more investments towards solutions catered to the healthcare sector, to stay competitive amidst rapid growth opportunities.