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Preventing Power Surge Problems Is Key to Medical Device Operations

by Rabia Paracha, Staff Reporter | August 05, 2009
Subtle peaks as well as
major power surges
can impair medical equipment
Today's health care technology continues to gain advancements in complexity and speed. Imaging, monitoring and data management software and hardware have never been more capable. Yet, the advance comes at a price. Today's electronics often place a substantial drain on power supplies and in turn, they are susceptible to power related issues.

Hospitals and medical facilities utilize a wide array of voltage-sensitive equipment. Diagnostic technologies such as EKG, MRI and ultrasound, to name a few, require clean, consistent power with controlled leakage current and tight tolerances for voltage fluctuations. Unfortunately, electrical environments in health care facilities do not always provide these conditions.

A study conducted by IBM estimates a power surge of 100 to 1,000 volts occurs at least once per day in every electrical environment, possibly leading to system lock-ups, lost productivity and even catastrophic equipment damage or data loss. Surges can also degrade lighting, HVAC and elevator controls as well as chiller systems - each potentially leading to life-threatening problems quite apart from dedicated medical devices

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Surge related issues result in nearly $80 billion in losses for the U.S. economy, according to the Worldwatch Institute. These equipment-damaging electrical pulses are also a factor in patient care and the filling of landfills with harmful electronic waste due to equipment failure.

Surveying the Surging Damage

Why do good systems go bad? How can processors misread information and why don't these systems last as long as they're designed to last? It takes an expert to explain.

William Goldbach is a power quality and surge protection expert, and a Life Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Goldbach has spent the past three decades as an electrical engineer in the power quality field where he has worked to identify the relationship between clean power and control system performance. He spoke with DOTmed about why systems, including medical technologies, falter.

"There is no rocket science to this puzzle. Dirty power degrades and destroys electronics," Goldbach said.

Microprocessors read information through current pulses as binary code (zeros and ones). As equipment is turned on and off, voltage and current pulses, known as transients, are generated. These pulses of energy are distributed throughout every piece of equipment in the system.

"Depending upon the size and frequency of these pulses," he says, "the results will vary. As microprocessors try to function, these transient pulses of energy can cause lock-ups, or data can become lost or corrupted. In addition," Goldback says, "larger pulses will cause catastrophic failure while smaller pulses degrade the life of these systems and controls."