We’ve all viewed scenes like this on TV: A very sick patient in some remote location is precariously clinging to life. The local doctor cannot solve the medical problem without the help of a super-specialist at a large metropolitan medical center located thousands of miles away. Through the miracle of technology the specialist sees the patient virtually via a diagnostic imaging device connected to the Internet, and the patient’s life is saved.
In the real world of medicine this scene is happening more and more often around the globe, and it is pushing the limits of how we think about and use technology. The reality is that for sophisticated communication to perform at this level a whole chain of elements has to interact flawlessly from one end to the other, and everything depends on infrastructure. If any link breaks, that screen goes blank. The same is true even when the doctors and technicians are all located within a single hospital. If diagnostic equipment isn’t provided with something as basic as a secure and reliable power supply, nothing works. Even inadequate cooling can make that very expensive device grind to a halt, disrupting patient care and losing income for the facility.
For the people that have to make it all work, it is important to think about the growing integration between medical equipment and IT networks that carry information within a facility or around the world via the Internet. Reliable performance requires specialized infrastructure.
Hospitals are filled with equipment, ranging from portable diagnostic devices to a huge MRI machine, which requires this type of protection to ensure patient safety. The equipment is usually grouped under the heading “modalities,” which are the high-tech medical imaging systems that are either stationary or portable and typically used in an indoor office environment. While this category is quite large and varied, the infrastructure such equipment needs has many common aspects:
A reliable and stable power supply—Hospitals are critical electrical environments. While they may have sophisticated generators and back-up systems, they are also subject to sags and surges, electrical noise, and erratic overall demand. These can have a serious effect on sensitive systems, and unprotected equipment can suffer damage resulting in downtime and data loss.
Specialized cooling—The comfort cooling system of a building may not be sufficient for some larger modalities. If a new installation is being placed in a location where it was not expected, the cooling may be inadequate and a new solution could be necessary.
Networking—Some modalities can generate enormous amounts of digital information that needs to be captured, stored, and sent out in various forms. New workstations and servers may be part of an installation that requires additional physical space and networking support.
These elements, and more, all compound to place new demands on facilities that may already have stressed infrastructure. To further explore ways to approach these challenges Schneider Electric offers a white paper called, Power Protection for Digital Medical Imaging and Diagnostic Equipment The piece suggests a variety of ways of analyzing situations and provides a guideline for relevant codes and best practices.
Much is at stake in these situations, well beyond the more mundane needs of a typical corporate IT system. The accuracy of a doctor’s diagnosis may hinge on getting the right bit of data or image at a strategic time. An MRI machine that’s out of service because a surge took out its power supply can’t help patients and causes the facility to lose money. Loss of information or a delay could, literally, be a matter of life and death.